Simple emoticons have been around for a while but it’s the rise of smartphones that have really brought them into the mainstream. They’re used everywhere; from text messages to Instagram hashtags. However, what each character means is often subject to debate.
Unicode publish standards on what each emoji should represent, but they are not always used as intended. Within different groups, different emoji can take on unique and personal meanings that can be hard for an outsider to understand.
In this dictionary, in an effort to bring some clarity to the situation, I look at some of the commonly accepted meanings of popular emoji.
Smiling Face With Smiling Eyes and Smiling Face are the two most commonly used emoticons. They simply denote happiness or positivity.
Infrequently, they may be used following an insult or criticism to remove some of the sting.
Smiling Face With Open Mouth, Smiling Face With Open Mouth And Smiling Eyes, Grinning Face, and Smiling Face With Open Mouth And Tightly-Closed Eyes are similar to the two simpler smiley faces and may be used in the same way. However, they are often used to express greater levels of happiness. A message with one of these emoji will normally be extremely positive.
They are almost never used with an insult or criticism.
Smiling Face With Open Mouth And Cold Sweat
Smiling Face With Open Mouth And Cold Sweat shows happiness like the other smiling faces, but there is also an element of relief. Messages using this emoji often express joy at how a potentially negative event worked out.
For example: if you sent a message explaining that you just passed a difficult test or got the all clear from the doctor then you could use this emoji.
Face With Tears Of Joy
Face With Tears Of Joy is used to show laughter. It’s closely related to LOL. If someone sends a funny joke, you can respond with this emoji.
Smiling Face With Sunglasses
Smiling Face With Sunglasses is used to show coolness. It’s similar to the sunglasses used in Deal With It GIFs.
Flushed Face shows embarrassment for an awkward situation or mistake. It is frequently used self-deprecatingly as a response to compliments.
Face Savoring Delicious Food
Face Savoring Delicious Food is used to express emotion about food. It can be used in anticipation for, during, or after a tasty meal.
Smirking Face has strong sexual connotations. It normally accompanies sexual innuendos or suggestions.
Winking Face shows that the message was sent with humorous intent. Any message that accompanies a Winking Face should not be taken too seriously.
Similar to Smirking Face, Winking Face often accompanies suggestive messages.
Stuck-Out Tongue Faces
Face With Stuck-Out Tongue, Face With Stuck-Out Tongue And Winking Eye, and Face With Stuck-Out Tongue And Tightly-Closed Eyes are used interchangeably with Winking Face to show humor.
Relieved Face is, as the name suggests, meant to indicate relief. However, it is mostly used to show contentment or calmness.
It can also, in response to a suggestive emoji, be used to show a certain amount of aloofness or innocence.
Smiling Face With Halo
Smiling Face With Halo shows innocence or goodness. It can be used seriously or humorously. For example, this emoji would be appropriate when messaging your friends on a Friday to explain that you are staying for the night.
Smiling Face With Horns and Imp can be used interchangeably, although because one is smiling and the other is frowning they can also be used to show subtly different things. Both show naughtiness or mischievousness.
Smiling Face With Horns more frequently accompanies minor mischiefs or suggestive messages while Imp implies more malice.
Kissing Face, Face Throwing A Kiss, Kissing Face With Smiling Eyes, and Kissing Face With Closed Eyes are all used to show romance or affection. Face Throwing A Kiss is possibly more romantic due to the small red heart. The other three can also be used to show innocent whistling.
Smiling Face With Heart-Shaped Eyes
Smiling Face With Heart-Shaped Eyes shows love, adoration, or gratitude. It can be used towards a person, place, or thing.
Neutral Face and Expressionless Face show a deliberate lack of emotion. They may be used to show that someone is unimpressed, indifferent, or awkward.
Unamused Face is used to show dissatisfaction or suspicion. This emoji does not show true anger or sadness, but rather a subtly negative emotion. For example, if you are unhappy or dubious of someone’s excuse for why they are late, you could send this emoji.
Face With Cold Sweat
Face With Cold Sweat shows stress or hard work. It typically refers to a specific situation. For example, messaging your partner to explain that you have to stay late at the office would warrant this emoji.
Pensive Face and Disappointed Face are the two main sad face emoji. Both convey a sense of sadness, remorse, regret, disappointment, or any similarly negative emotion.
Disappointed But Relieved Face
Disappointed But Relieved Face is generally used to show fear or hurt rather than disappointment.
Crying Face is similar to Pensive Face and Disappointed Face. It shows a stronger sense of hurt rather than general sadness.
Loudly Crying Face
Loudly Crying Face is a stronger version of Crying Face. It shows hurt, pain and upset. Unlike the other sad faces, it is often used ironically.
Worried Face shows shock, horror, disgust and fear.
Weary Face and Tired Face both show tiredness however they are often used to represent world-weariness, stress and a sense of being fed up as well.
Sleepy Face is seldom used to represent tiredness, instead it shows that the sender is sick or unwell.
Sleeping Face is used instead of Sleepy Face to show tiredness, sleepiness or similar. It is difficult for a person to send a message when they’re actually sleeping.
Confused Face and Confounded Face are used interchangeably to show confusion. Confused Face is also used to show awkwardness or an apology. For example, if someone has to cancel plans, they might include this emoji at the end of the message.
Face With Look Of Triumph
Face With Look Of Triumph is one of the most misused emoji. It is used to show anger or frustration rather than triumph.
Face With Look Of Triumph is often used ironically.
Angry Face and Pouting Face both show anger, with the red Pouting Face the stronger of the two. Unlike Face With Look Of Triumph they are seldom used humorously.
Persevering Face shows stress or fatalism towards a situation.
Frowning Face With Open Mouth and Anguished Face both show shock, horror, and disappointment. They are often used as a lesser version of Pensive Face or Disappointed Face.
Fearful Face, Face With Open Mouth And Cold Sweat, and Face Screaming In Fear all show varying levels of fear, ranging from slightly scared with Face With Open Mouth And Cold Sweat to outright terror with Face Screaming In Fear. They can all be used ironically.
See-No-Evil Monkey, Hear-No-Evil Monkey, and Speak-No-Evil Monkey are used to show shock and embarrassment. Which specific monkey is used depends on the contents of the message.
Pile Of Poo
Pile Of Poo is almost always used humorously. It expresses exactly how the sender feels about something.
Thumbs Up Sign
Thumbs Up Sign shows acceptance, or agreement.
Thumbs Down Sign
Thumbs Down Sign shows rejection, dislike or disagreement.
OK Hand Sign
OK Hand Sign shows acceptance, satisfaction, or that everything is OK. It can also be used to show that something is tiny or small.
Victory Hand is more often used to represent the similar peace symbol. It shows coolness, relaxation, or satisfaction.
Person Raising Both Hands In Celebration
Person Raising Both Hands In Celebration, more commonly referred to as Praise Hands, is used to show support, appreciation, or celebration.
Person With Folded Hands
Person With Folded Hands, while not meant to explicitly religious, is normally used to show prayer or pleading. A request for a favor may be accompanied by this emoji.
Red Heart is the classic love heart emoticon. Used to show love, romance, or any similar emotion.
Purple Heart, Yellow Heart, Green Heart, and Blue Heart are all similar to Red Heart however the target of their affection is normally related to the color of the heart. For example, Blue Heart is often used with sports teams who wear blue jerseys. Similarly, the Yellow Heart is associated with the sun and summer.
Broken Heart is the ultimate expression of sadness. It can also be used ironically.
What do you think? Emoji are still evolving as a tool for communication and their meanings are still fluid. Have I skipped your favorite emoji or are there any important meanings I’ve missed?
Image Credits: Open book via Shutterstock