Uncertain Times for 🍑

When someone texts a peach emoji now, does it mean “nice butt,” or is it a rallying cry for democracy?

On the left, a peach emoji superimposed on the back of a figure wearing jeans. On the right, a sign calling for impeachment using a peach emoji.
Which peach? Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by KarynaChe/iStock/Getty Images Plus, Nadine Shaabana/Unsplash, and AlexandrBognat/iStock/Getty Images Plus.

If you believe Slate’s Impeach-O-Meter, and the Impeach-O-Meter does not lie, it really might be happening: We really might impeach President Donald Trump this time. This is, it goes without saying, a very big deal, a genuinely historic moment. We have plenty of essential coverage for you. But I want to make sure a separate but related issue doesn’t get lost in all this hullaballoo: How is this going to affect the peach emoji?

You know the peach emoji: He’s that heart-shaped guy frequently called upon to signify a butt, especially when the butt in question is particularly shapely. But this week, as impeachment buzz has built, there has been a rise in a different use of the peach emoji altogether, one that has nothing to do with butts: People—including such luminaries as Lizzo—are using the peach emoji as shorthand for “impeach” and “impeachment.” (Some add an im or an M before the peach, but such trimmings are optional.) It may be that this new use for peaches transcends emoji—Time magazine used an illustration of a peach on its cover earlier this year to represent impeachment, and on Twitter, verbal jokes and puns about peaches abound. For so long, the fruit most closely associated with Trump was an orange, so it’s fitting that a new fruit has come along to symbolize what could be a new era. Fuzzy, pink, and cute, the peach has little metaphorical relevance to impeachment, but it may be a symbol for our moment nonetheless.

Just when you thought you had the secret emoji meanings down, they go and change on you! Can an emoji’s meaning really just suddenly change like this? There’s no precedent for exactly that happening, but if you think that the peach emoji has always meant butt, and the eggplant emoji has always signified dick, and ’twas ever thus, you’d be wrong. Just four years ago, it was news that the eggplant had edged out the banana as emoji users’ phallic symbol of choice. We don’t know when, after the peach emoji arrived onto iPhones in 2010, its badonka-denotation emerged. Language evolves all the time. If you’re thinking that the people who use the peach as a butt won’t take this lying down, it’s true that they’ve risen up before: Apple once tried to give the peach emoji a makeover, and a mass flip-out followed, leading Apple to pare back its change. But now is a different time, a time when people may feel more willing to put country above emoji and allow the peach to ascend to a higher calling, where it can represent an idea that’s bigger than butts. Let the banana’s split from the list of sexual emoji serve as a cautionary tale: No emoji is guaranteed a fixed place in the lexicon. And so it’s fully possible that the butt sense of the peach emoji is in peril. Send your sexts while you still can!

For now, though, we are in a state of linguistic confusion. If someone texts you a peach emoji, what are you supposed to think? Does it mean that your butt looks good today, or does it stand for nothing-to-do-with-anyone’s-butt support for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry? You’d only have context clues to rely on: You’d have to ask yourself, has the person who texted you seen your butt today? Is something big happening in Congress right now? Most people will be able to figure it out from there, but some, particularly those with the most attractive backsides, are looking at a lot of misunderstandings over the coming weeks.

Even though emoji were seemingly invented to allay this kind of confusion, I think what we may have on our hands here is the first true emoji homonym. (Homoji? Emojinym?) Think about it: I can’t imagine that Lizzo would be OK with giving up the peach emoji–as-butt completely, not a woman whose Twitter bio pointedly includes one after the words “America’s Next Bop Star.” As emoji increasingly characterize a language all their own, it’s only natural that we would reach this marker of linguistic complexity. I predict that both senses of the butt emoji will coexist in harmony, the Clark Kent/Superman of emoji: impeachment by day, “nice butt!” by night, a linguistically ambidextrous symbol for the complicated, bizarre times in which we live.