Who Loves the Eggplant? America's Favorite Emojis, State by State

Some are obvious, others are baffling.

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Aug 18 2015, 4:00pm

Photo: MTSOfan/Flickr

A surfer for Hawaii. A corn cob for Iowa. A cactus for Arizona. When it comes to emoji trends, a new analysis shows some states aren't afraid to embrace their stereotypes.

Keyboard app SwiftKey released a new report Tuesday that analyzed which emojis are used most often in each of the 50 states. The company gathered more than 1 billion emojis sent in the United States through the app's cloud system—an opt-in service on the app that backs up user data for personal analyses and to help the company look for trends like these.

SwiftKey analyzed the emojis sent in each state to determine which emojis were used in that state significantly more often than the national average, and which emojis were used more by each state than any other state, by percentage. For example, if most states use the cactus emoji 2 percent of the time, but Arizona uses it 18 percent of the time, it made the list of Arizona's emoji. SwiftKey then cross-referenced these lists to find the common denominator, which its statisticians pulled as the "top emoji" for that state. Along with the analysis, SwiftKey launched new features Tuesday to let users find their personal "top emoji" and compare their emoji usage to their friends as well as the general population.

Some of the results, like the ones listed above, were unsurprising, but others were a bit unexpected. Connecticut's top emoji was a koala bear, Louisiana's was a skull, and South Dakota was the "dad" emoji (the man with a mustache).

Image courtesy of SwiftKey

"Some of them are pretty mysterious, even to us," said Jennifer Kutz, head of US communications at Swiftkey, who helped analyze the emoji data. "Alabama, for example, was really bizarre to me because the top emoji was an elephant. I thought 'that must be wrong.' But I asked a friend and apparently it's the mascot of one of the universities there."

It's true: Big Al is the elly mascot for the University of Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

I asked some of my colleagues if they could explain the trends from their home states, but they were as baffled as I was. Kari Paul, who spent time in Texas growing up, had no idea why the bunch of grapes was top emoji in the Lone Star state. Adrianne Jeffries, who hails from Virginia, had no guesses for why the frog emoji is used there more than in any other state. Colin Jones, from Ohio, noted that "people in the Midwest love the fall" to explain the falling leaves and jack-o-lantern emojis that were used by Ohioans more than any other state, but why the bowl of ice cream was top emoji for Ohio is inexplicable.

My theory was that the lists were inexact because they specifically focus on trying to find the difference between states. When you eliminate the emojis that are the most popular everywhere (like the crying/laugh face, as a previous SwiftKey survey found) the lingering emojis that are marginally more popular in one state or another will understandably be a bit random. But Kutz told me that wasn't the case.

"Just about all of the top emojis were used significantly above the average and more than other states," she told me. "They were anywhere from 50 percent above average to 1,200 percent above average."

Instead, she had her own theories for why some of the seemingly random emojis came out on top. For one, people don't usually talk about the obvious in their surroundings. If you live in California, you don't need to use the sunshine emoji all the time. You know it's sunny. You live in California.

Kutz and her colleagues at SwiftKey also guessed that there could be some localized slang usage of emojis that haven't trickled out into the wider consciousness.

"I feel like every three months there's a new word or emoji or reference point that we see in the data and I have no idea what it means," said Joe Braidwood, SwiftKey's chief marketing officer. "It's like the teens are just trying to outsmart us."