What Your Favorite Emoji Really Mean

Photo: Apple.
For an image to receive the coveted status of becoming an official emoji, it needs to satisfy multiple requirements set forth by the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit that reviews all emoji applications.
Among the factors taken into account are: expected usage level, image distinctiveness, and compatibility with apps that regularly use emoji, such as Snapchat and Twitter. But it's also important that the emoji have references beyond its most literal meaning. The example that Unicode offers applicants is a shark, which can be used as the large saltwater fish, or, more creatively, to describe a card shark or loan shark. (Whether or not Unicode predicted how users would interpret the eggplant — which is, at heart, just a vegetable — is up for debate.)
Advertisement
But beyond metaphorical meanings, there are also the emoji that we think mean one thing, but were actually intended for other uses. The peace sign? Nope, it isn't actually a peace sign. The angry face blowing steam? Nope, it isn't actually angry.
Click through to see 29 of the most surprising meanings behind your favorite emoji — including some of the new 2019 emojis. If your mind is blown, you'll definitely want to check out the full dictionary here.
This article was originally published on August 16, 2016 at 5:20 p.m.
1 of 32
Looks like: *Shrug*

Is really: The upside down face (also known as the sarcasm and silly faces).

Use when: You're text-flirting and take the plunge by sending a bold "I like you" text. Nothing like a kind of joking, kind of serious emoji to soften the blow.
2 of 32
Looks like: A face with a prominent nose.

Is really: A Pinocchio-esque lying face.

Use when: You catch your friend in a little white lie (or when you confess to having lied yourself).
Advertisement
3 of 32
Looks like: Meh.

Is really: A confused face. (Formerly, the :S emoticon.)

Use when: You don't know who or what to believe!
4 of 32
Looks like: You ate a burrito that isn't agreeing with your stomach.

Is really: A woozy/drunk face.

Use when: You've had one too many drinks and you sent a text you know you'll regret tomorrow.
5 of 32
Looks like: A tearful face.

Is really: A pleading face.

Use when: You really want your friend to meet you for brunch, even though it's subzero outside.
6 of 32
Looks like: The signaling of a certain appendage being particularly small...

Is really: A pinching hand.

Use when: You need to indicate the small size of something. Anything.
7 of 32
Looks like: A single drop of blood.

Is really: Associated with blood donation, medicine, and menstruation, according to the Unicode website. This is one of Unicode's new 2019 emojis.

Use when: You're on your period and you want to text about it!
Advertisement
8 of 32
Looks like: A tearful person.

Is really: A disappointed but relieved face.

Use when: Your friend cancels the plans you had but you're secretly relieved because you wanted to stay home anyway.
9 of 32
Looks like: Someone with a cold

Is really: A sleepy face

Use when: You're so tired that you're drooling on your pillow
10 of 32
Looks like: Someone who uses very expressive hand gestures to convey their excitement.

Is really: A hugging face.

Use when: The heart emoji just isn't enough.
11 of 32
Looks like: Someone having a temper tantrum.

Is really: A pouting face.

Use after: Being told the one product you wanted on Black Friday is already out of stock.
12 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Someone who is very sad.

Is really: A pensive face.

Use after: Watching the latest episode of Westworld or reading a fan theory about the show.
Advertisement
13 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Someone who is really pissed off (hence the steam coming out of their imaginary nose).

Is really: A triumphant face.

Use after: Finishing a tough workout, winning an argument, or giving a kick-ass presentation at work.
14 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Someone excitedly getting to work.

Is really: A person bowing deeply or apologizing.

Use when: Acknowledging that your friend was right and that you should have tried the new Thai place instead of the sushi spot you picked instead.
15 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: A flower with a pink design.

Is really: A fish cake, often made of pureed white fish in Japan.

Use when: You're actually eating a fish cake in Tokyo, or to tell someone that you're craving a pastry or cake (minus the white fish).
16 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Someone who can't believe what they're hearing or seeing.

Is really: A girl "gesturing okay."

Use when: Telling friends you're game for this weekend's plans.
17 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: A shooting star.

Is really: A dizzy symbol.

Use when: You celebrated a little too hard last night.
Advertisement
18 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: A surprised cat.

Is really: A weary cat.

Use when: Your cat is sleeping in an adorable position, or you're watching endless YouTube videos of cute, tired kittens.
19 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Someone who is frustrated and whiny.

Is really: A tired face.

Use when: You don't feel like leaving the warm heaven that is your bed on Monday morning.
20 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: A town hall.

Is really: A school.

Use when: You're laughing about your painfully bad first kiss in sixth grade.
21 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Some sort of waterside plant.

Is really: A sheaf of rice.

Use when: You're going into the fields to do some harvesting. Or, you're Instagramming a field of rice (a slightly more likely scenario).
22 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Someone who can't believe what they're seeing.

Is really: A dizzy face.

Use when: You sit up too quickly post-massage and can't see straight.
Advertisement
23 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: A peace sign.

Is really: A victory hand.

Use after: Signing a lease on a gorgeous, natural light-filled apartment, or getting a killer deal on new shoes.
24 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Any old plant (poison ivy, perhaps?).

Is really: An herb.

Use when: You need your roommate to pick up dill for dinner.
25 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: "Hey, girl."

Is really: A woman who works at an information desk.

Use when: This emoji will always be the sassy "Hey, girl" in our minds, but if you're posting a note asking for travel advice, she's your go-to girl.
26 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: Someone who is annoyed beyond belief.

Is really: The face of someone who is persevering.

Use when: You're fighting a late-Friday-afternoon slump and feeling like the weekend can't come soon enough.
27 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: A steaming plate of food.

Is really: A hot spring.

Use when: You're going for a relaxing dip at one of the rejuvenating hot springs in Colorado or visiting the equally warm Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
Advertisement
28 of 32
Photo: Apple.
Looks like: A strange red box.

Is really: The ultimate anger symbol.

Use when: You are so furious with someone that words and sassy anger emoji just won't do.
29 of 32
Looks like: A bowl of salad

Is really: Stuffed flatbread

Use when: You've had your daily dose of greens.
30 of 32
Looks like: Someone who has just eaten their least favorite food.

Is really: A confounded face

Use when: You see someone Tweet something that's completely tone deaf.
31 of 32
Looks like: A whitewalker

Is really: A cold face, but not necessarily due to the weather

Use when: You feel like you're being frozen out by your friend, or something's so cool you're now frozen.
32 of 32
produced by Lauren Paige Magenta; appearance by Lucie Fink; produced by Lucie Fink.
Related Video
Advertisement

More from Tech