I knew emojis had hit the mainstream when my 74-year-old father started sending them in his text messages to me.
Yes, it's an unavoidable fact: emojis have become part of daily life for us, the smartphone-using public.
I’m sure I’m not alone in the amount of time I’ve spent trying to decipher emojis, especially ones coming from romantic partners. Those text exchanges go something like this:
HER: "Hey, I'm going to the Art after Dark tonight."
ME: "Sounds good, gonna grab some dinner."
HER: "O.k. <neutral face emoji>"
ME (to myself): Does the neutral face mean she’s disappointed that I'm not going with her? Or is it sarcasm? Or what? Or what??
Of course, part of the utility of emojis is that they are imprecise signifiers; if she wanted me to know in no uncertain terms that she was disappointed in me for not accompanying her, she could have just written it.
In this article I’ll discuss some of the most commonly confused emojis, and attempt to shed light both on their intended meanings the ways they’re typically used. That way, you'll be better prepared to decode emoji-riddled text messages from your romantic partner/sibling/friend/parent.
Emojipedia.com was my go-to source for this article, and I mention it frequently.
Emojipedia describes this emoji as "a face featuring a straight-and-closed mouth, not giving away any particular emotion."
I'd quibble with this description a bit. In my experience, this neutral face is in fact loaded with emotion. When I receive one of these, it usually means (as I find out later) that the sender is bummed, tired, disappointed or nonplussed. As such, it's kind of the perfect emoji for someone who wants to hint at their feelings but not make them known outright. I wonder if the creators of this emoji had any idea it would be used like this.
Disappointed But Relieved Face
Emojipedia really schooled me on this one. I always assumed this emoji signified feeling a bit sad about something. It turns out that the single drop of liquid coming down the side of the face is not a tear, but a bead of sweat.
Emojipedia rightly points out that this emoji is frequently confused with Crying Face emoji, since at small sizes it's difficult to discern between the two. I'd venture to say that not a single person I have interacted with over text has deployed this face to indicate disappointed relief, which hints at the widespread confusion over it's meaning.
Face with Tears of Joy
According to Emojipedia, this emoji is "often mistaken for being tears of sadness." I used to think that's what it meant--specifically uncontrollable crying, of the bawling, scream-crying variety. I've since learned that it signifies laughing until you cry.
This has become one of the most overused emojis of the last year or so, as a scroll through Instagram makes clear. Just as I refuse to believe that people are laughing out loud when they send me a "LOL," I similarly fail to believe they're doubled over with laughter when they send one of these. But maybe I just lack imagination.
Emojipedia rightly points out that this face "looks more surprised than hushed," and indeed it's widely used to that end. With its high eyebrows and wordless, open mouth, I can certainly see what the designers were going for when they made it, but it still says surprise to me, and millions of other. As such, I think it's ripe for a redefinition. Who do I have to call to help make this happen?
Flag emojis—as Mike Pence learned recently—are often misused. In February, the Vice President tweeted out his administration’s support for Jewish people and the nation of Israel. The only problem? He punctuated his tweet with an emoji of the Nicaraguan flag.
One of my friends recently committed the same error when he sent me a Mexican flag emoji instead of the intended Italian one. If you plan on texting or tweeting a country’s flag, make sure you have the right one. It can be embarrassing when you don’t.