28 Emoji Meanings You’ve Probably Gotten Wrong
It doesn’t matter whether you’re using the texting app that was preinstalled on your phone or you’ve switched it out for a more sophisticated messaging app. Either way, you’ve probably used an emoji or two in your conversations with friends. But are you using them correctly? Official emoji meanings elude even the most Snapchat-savvy among us. And for every emoji that’s pretty unambiguous, like a donut or an octopus or a cactus, there are plenty that seem open to interpretation.
The Unicode Consortium, which coordinates the development of the Unicode standard and is responsible for the character encoding that makes it possible to use emoji across operating systems, has a few words to say about emoji meanings on its website. The organization explains in its frequently asked questions that emoji meanings “may vary depending on language, culture, and context.” Additionally, the Unicode character name is a unique identifier for each emoji, but it “may not encompass all the possible meanings of an emoji character, and in some cases may even be misleading.”
So how is a curious emoji user supposed to learn the emoji meanings behind these ubiquitous symbols, and identify the misinterpretations that have gone mainstream? We’re here to help. Ahead, these 28 emoji meanings are ones you’ve probably gotten wrong in the past — but won’t have to be confused about anymore.
1. Astonished face
You’re not the only one who assumes that the emoji with “X”s for eyes is dead. But the character is actually intended as an “astonished face,” which makes it the perfect emoji to use the next time you need a symbol to show how surprised you are. Another X-eyed emoji to look out for? The “dizzy face,” which looks just like the astonished face except without the upper teeth visible in the open mouth.
2. Confounded face
This emoji is commonly used when people want to show that they’re stressed or communicate that they’re worried. But, perhaps fittingly, it’s actually intended as a “confounded” face. Talk about confusing emoji meanings.
3. Disappointed but relieved face
At first glance, this doesn’t seem like a character for which there’d be a multitude of potential emoji meanings. It seems like the right face to use when you’re talking about being sad or crying over something that’s going on. But it’s actually intended as a “disappointed but relieved face” — a pretty specific mix of emotions for a single emoji.
4. Dizzy symbol
Lots of people use this symbol like a shooting star. But that makes it a pretty good example of how easy it is to confuse emoji meanings, even in the case of simple symbols. This emoji is intended to illustrate dizziness or the phenomenon of seeing stars, just like you’d see in a cartoon when a character is hit on the head.
5. Face with cold sweat
Plenty of emoji users treat this like a face with a misplaced tear. As such, plenty of people use it to show that they’re feeling dejected. But as indicated by the title, this emoji actually shows a face with a bead of cold sweat. The original emoji meanings associate this character with situations of stress, fear, or pain. So it’s a more fitting emoji when you’re talking about being stressed about school or putting in lots of hard work at the office than for conversations about being sad when things aren’t going your way.
6. Face with look of triumph
If you’ve been using this symbol to convey the fact that you’re angry, even fuming, you’d be forgiven for misconstruing the official emoji meaning. This is actually a triumphant face — but we’re willing to bet that it’s one of the most commonly misunderstood faces in the current emoji canon. It reminds lots of people of a bull blowing steam out of his nostrils, which probably explains why we’ve all been using it wrong.
7. Face with OK gesture
There are plenty of potential emoji meanings for this character, and tons of people interpret it as a character putting her hands on her head as a sign of surprise, or even as a ballerina holding her arms in fifth position. But this emoji is actually intended as an OK symbol, and shows a girl making an OK sign by creating an “O” shape with her arms, which is a Japanese gesture.
8. Grinning face with smiling eyes and Grimacing face
These two emoji are pretty easy to mix up. The first one is a “grinning face with smiling eyes,” and the second is a “grimacing face.” People tend to use the two interchangeably, often to convey awkwardness, nervousness, or even excitement. But given how similar they are, you’d be forgiven for confusing the emoji meanings behind the two symbols.
9. Hands raised in celebration
If you’ve assumed that this emoji is meant to show praise (either to God or to another party) then you’ve been using it wrong. The original emoji meanings for this symbol relate to expressing joy or celebration about a success or a positive event.
10. Hugging face
If you’ve ever wondered why this emoji is showing off his jazz hands, here’s your answer: This is supposed to be a “hugging face.” That doesn’t make it any less creepy. But if you’ve been thinking that this guy is trying to push someone away, at least you know now that the intended meaning is pretty much the opposite.
11. Hushed face
Think that this face is a pretty straightforward symbol meant to show surprise? It’s actually a hushed face, and is meant to show someone who’s being quiet. Perhaps those raised eyebrows indicate that he’s whispering a secret?
12. Information desk person
This emoji looks pretty straightforward. Plenty of emoji users choose this character to accompany sarcastic remarks or sassy photos. That seems like a good use of the symbol, since this character looks like she’s just flipped her hair or is otherwise showing that’s she aware that her appearance is flawless. But as the title of this emoji indicates, the character is actually meant to illustrate someone working at an information desk, holding out her hand and asking how she can help.
13. Japanese ogre
This emoji, which is actually a Japanese ogre, is commonly used to express anger (probably thanks to his red face), or to represent evil or the devil. But the symbol was actually intended to illustrate an ogre, named Namahage, featured in Japanese folklore. The ogre wards off evil spirits from homes, which runs counter to most people’s perceptions of his representation in emoji.
14. Love hotel
Most people assume that this pink building is a hospital, probably thanks to the giant “H” on the front of it. But the truth is much more scandalous: It’s actually a “love hotel,” or a hotel where you can hire a room by the hour, check in with your lover, and then leave shortly afterward.
15. Neutral face and Expressionless face
Two emojis (and emoji meanings) that are easy to mix up are the neutral face on the left and the expressionless face on the right. Most people tend to use these only in negative situations, so you may be happy to know that you have not one, but two emoji at your fingertips for those times when you’re feeling pretty apathetic about whatever it is you’re discussing with your friends.
16. Open hands
This is one of the more confusing emojis when it comes to hand gestures. Most people use it to show that they’re above a task or are dismissing something (or someone). But the symbol was originally intended to represent openness, or even a hug. Not exactly what you’d expect based on the way your friends have been using this emoji.
17. Persevering face
If you’re like most people, this is probably one of the emoji you turn to when you want to convey that you’ve had a rough day (or week) and are ready to throw in the towel on all of the things you’ve been trying to accomplish against insurmountable odds. But in reality, the original meaning of this symbol is the “persevering face,” which indicates that this little character may have more determination or just plain endurance than the rest of us.
18. Person bowing deeply
Lots of people use this emoji when they want to convey that they’re thinking hard about something, that they’re being serious, or even that they’re “forever alone.” But as Lyssa Goldberg reports for Mashable, the original emoji meanings for this character are respect or apology. This emoji was intended to depict dogeza, the Japanese practice of kneeling and prostrating oneself to show deference to someone or to express an apology.
19. Person with folded hands
This is one of the best examples of how easy it is for original emoji meanings to get lost in new interpretations. Most people use this emoji as a symbol of pleading or praying, or even use it to show a high-five. But it was originally intended as a depiction of a Japanese hand gesture used to express an apology or to show gratitude for a meal.
20. Pointing up
This emoji is actually intended to show a hand “pointing up.” But in your messages with friends, you’ve probably spotted people using it to stand in for the word “up,” to represent the number one, or even to show that they have an idea or a question.
21. Pouting face
If you think that this emoji depicts someone in the midst of throwing a temper tantrum, then you’ve way overestimated the gravity of the situation. This emoji’s name is the “pouting face.” But unless they’re spending time with extraordinarily short-tempered toddlers, most people wouldn’t really consider this facial expression an indication of anything as benign as pouting.
22. Raised hand
The raised hand symbol is one of the more confusing hand gestures when it comes to emoji meanings. The name doesn’t give much away, except to reassure you that you don’t have to use it to denote a high-five. Some people use it to tell someone to stop or to “talk to the hand,” while others use it to indicate that they have a question to ask.
23. Sign of the horns
Though plenty of people think of this as a “rockstar” emoji, its proper name is the “sign of the horns.” That refers to a hand gesture that has a variety of different meanings in different cultures. It’s an offensive gesture in many countries (so make sure you’re careful about whom you’re sending it to), but it’s also associated with various meanings in music and heavy metal culture, sports culture, and even in neopaganism.
24. Sleepy face
Most people assume that this is one of several characters meant to express sadness. But it’s one of the more confusing symbols as far as emoji meanings go. This is actually a sleepy face, and that water droplet isn’t a tear; it’s a meant to represent drool. (That means that if you’ve been interpreting the water droplet as snot and using this symbol to complain about having a cold or allergies, you’re misusing this emoji, too.) In fact, Megan Logan reports for Wired that the “nasal bubble” comes from “popular anime/manga iconography that denotes sleep.”
25. Tired face
We’ve used this emoji plenty of times to add a little humor to a conversation where somebody’s doing a lot of whining. But it’s a great illustration for just how easy it is to mistake emoji meanings. The character is actually intended as a tired face — which seems increasingly plausible when you consider the faces that you’re inclined to make when you’re sleep-deprived.
26. Victory hand
Easily misconstrued for a peace sign, or a simple gesture showing that you want two of something, this hand emoji is actually intended as a victory sign. Because that’s definitely the emoji you’d send to your friends when you’ve got something to celebrate.
27. Weary cat face
There are a few emoji meanings popularly associated with this character, but none of them reflect the original title: weary cat face. If you’ve been using this cat face to convey your horror or surprise, now’s the time to change your ways and realize that this emoji is another useful way to show how tired or sleep-deprived you are.
28. Women with bunny ears
The emoji showing two women wearing bunny ears is one that plenty of friends have used to show that they’re happy or that they’re looking forward to a night out together. But as Goldberg notes, this emoji was actually intended to represent the Bunny Girl, a subservient Japanese symbol that’s associated with sex appeal and is popular in fetish cosplay. Which means that if you’ve been thinking emoji meanings like dancing girls, tap dancing girls, or even ballet dancing girls are correct, you might be surprised.