Decoding Popular Emoji's

March 29, 2016

Say what you will about modern technology and text lingo, but there’s no denying that emojis are becoming a part of our communication. The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015 was the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji, and what was once just an iPhone feature has become a global phenomenon.

Though emojis are a fun way to get your message across or respond to friends, it can sometimes be unclear what these emojis really mean. Sending the wrong emoji, as trivial as it may sound, can be offensive or hurtful. Here’s an overview of some of the more common emojis, and how they’re generally interpreted.

The tear emojis

There are three tear emojis that are used by most emoji users: the one-tear face, the streaming tears face, and in Apple’s words, the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji. Yes, they all have tears, but they all have completely different interpretations.

The single-tear emoji is used to express genuine sadness. This is the one you want to use when someone tells you they had a bad day or that something slightly tragic has happened. Note: when dealing with serious issues like death, do not use emojis. Maybe a heart one to show support, but that’s it. Emojis are great but words are better.

The streaming-tears emoji can have two meanings. Like the single-tear face, it can be used to show sadness, or more generally being upset, or it can be to show “extreme” emotion. I use the crying face most when I see a dog on campus (I’m completely serious) or I’m having a moment of appreciation for a friend.

The emoji with two tears and a smile represents laughing and crying with laughter. Repeat after me: it is laughing. My mom still hasn’t quite mastered the difference between the tear emojis and will send a laugh-crying emoji in response to my texts about having a delayed flight or being homesick. This is not an emoji mistake you want to make.

Other face emojis

The nervous face emoji is fairly easy to interpret. Make the face that the emoji is making, and that’s what the feeling is. It can be used for feeling nervous, politely disagreeing, or trying to downplay a situation. I’ve seen some people use this emoji to show smiling, but this definitely isn’t a universally positive emoji. Save this one for when there’s some tension, or you’ve got butterflies in your stomach.

The upside down smiling emoji is one of the newer emojis. This one hasn’t quite taken on a definite meaning yet, but from my own experience it is used primarily to convey sarcasm. This is the emoji that I’ll add on to texts about locking myself out of my room or not doing well on a midterm. They generally accompany bad news and feeling out of control.

Hand emojis

Apple recently added a boatload of new hand emojis, so there are countless options for what you can do with them. One of the most popular hand emoji combinations is the finger pointing to the right followed by a finger-to-thumb emoji. This one is meant to either imply sexuality or bluntly say sex. Other sex-related emojis include the eggplant and the peach emojis (hint: think about their shapes).

One emoji that was commonly thought to be hands praying actually has a different meaning. It is meant to represent two different people high-fiving. Many people still use this emoji to represent praying or pleading, but be aware that some people might use it for it’s intended meaning.

And one last note about the hand emojis: one of the newer ones is a hand throwing up the middle finger. It looks exactly like the emoji of a hand raising its index finger, so make sure you’re extra careful when using these two.

The most important part of decoding emojis is understanding that different people use them differently. I’ve had countless text conversations with friends debating what different emojis really mean. Just because you use them for one thing, doesn’t mean someone else won’t use them for another. Be open to different emoji interpretations, and have fun experimenting with all of your options!

Photo courtesy of Flickr.

Written by

Jessica Phillips

Jessica Phillips is a junior at American University, double-majoring in Public Relations and Psychology. She is particularly interested in mental health advocacy and child psychology. In addition to writing, she loves reading and taking in all that Washington D.C. has to offer.