If you want to understand how the peach emoji has come to represent both the potential impeachment of President Trump and a butt, you must first look to the ancient Sumerians.
Cuneiform, their early system of writing, began as a series of pictograms, and some characters represented multiple words or concepts. But it could be “tricky to represent something in the abstract,” said Vyvyan Evans, a British linguistics professor, and author of “The Emoji Code.” So the Sumerians would repurpose an existing pictogram that had resonance with the hard-to-illustrate concept. A modern-day equivalent would be using a picture of an eye to represent “I” — a linguistic concept called the Rebus Principle.
The singer Lizzo may not have known she was referencing 6,000 years of the evolution of human language last Tuesday when she tweeted a message that now has more than 120,000 likes — and helped take the peach from sexualized to politicized.
That’s not what a peach emoji usually means — and if you didn’t already know that, well, bless your heart. Designers have presented the emoji peach in slightly varying ways across digital platforms, but most show it with a rather well-defined crease. In botany, this is called the suture, and it gives drupe fruits, a category that includes peaches, plums and olives, a seam that can split to release its seed-bearing pit.
In Internet culture . . . well, there’s no delicate way to say this. That crease represents a butt crack. Though Apple briefly threatened to change the design of the beloved sexting emoji to make it less derriere-like in 2016, it reversed course, giving us the luscious, juicy peach we have on our phones today.
“Many of the findings that we’re looking at within the realm of the emoji language is that they’re kind of following the same patterns that words do. So they’ll pick up new meanings the same way that words will,” said Benjamin Weissman, a lecturer at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, who has studied the way that our brains interpret emoji. Unicode, the group that maintains character software standards, considers “notable metaphorical references or symbolism” in its selection criteria for new emoji.
So when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated impeachment proceedings against President Trump last week, pro-impeachment Twitter users began making the connection between peaches and article I, section 2, clause 5 of the Constitution.
In certain online circles, the peach is becoming a protest emoji — much like how some use the rose emoji to signify that they are supporters of the Democratic Socialists of America. Impeachment supporters put it in their Twitter bios. The 1995 song “Peaches” by the band Presidents of the United States of America has become suddenly relevant again. D.C. bars put punny peach-flavored drinks on the menu. Maureen Dowd reinforced the connection in her Sept. 27 column, “Impeaching the Peach One.”
Sales of Trump-themed peach emoji stickers and pins have picked up in the last week on illustrator Nick Lacke’s Etsy store. He first designed the impeachment pins a year after the election, as a follow-up to another successful pin of his, which featured the poop emoji with the president’s face. He appreciated the multiple layers of meaning in the peach emoji — the impeachment pun, the color of the fruit evoking the president’s tanned skin tone and the original slang meaning of the peach emoji.
“It’s like, ‘oh he’s a buttface,’ so it’s like, very intellectual, multilayered high art, I like to think,” he joked. “Enamel pin culture is about having a visual marker for different aspects of your personality and your interests. ... It’s less me being like, ‘I think he should get impeached,’ and more me creating something for people to get a laugh out of.”
But linguistically, the peach emoji is an interesting case. “Most of the secondary or double meaning uses of emojis don’t have to do with the sound of the word,” said Weissman. It’s not the first time an emoji has had several layers of meaning, he said, “But it seems to be the most prominent case of it being used phonetically.”
As for whether that meaning will last — well, that depends on the Democrats, the investigation, and on how much the protest peach takes off.
“How deeply entrenched it becomes in the public psyche will depend upon patterns of usage, and that includes not just the number of people that use it. It also includes the frequency, [and] crucially, who uses it,” said Evans.
Two days after her tweet, she posted an Instagram video from a concert. “For those who don’t know, let me spell it out for you,” she said, as she turned around and bent over, wearing a gold bodysuit. “Im . . . Peach . . .” — and here she tapped her left butt cheek — “. . .Ment,” she said, with a tap to the right.