The Hidden Meaning Behind 6 Common Emojis, According to Experts
Be careful when sending these emojis, communication experts say.
An emoji can be worth a thousand words. But with almost 600 small digital images to choose from, you want to make sure you're texting the right message. And, as therapists and communication experts point out, there's a hidden meaning behind certain emojis. To make sure you're not sending mixed signals, keep reading to hear about what six common emojis mean to different generations or cultures.
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Your laughing emoji might make you look out of touch.
If you're a millennial, you might be using the wrong laughing emoji when you find something to be funny.
"Millennials are beginning to misunderstand the newly-stylized emoji use of Gen Z," says Keith Broni, editor-in-chief of Emojipedia. "There's a greater sense of irony and creative repurposing within the modern emoji keyboard, which, we have to note, has been a part of the lives of Gen Z from their early teenage years, unlike Millennials who at the earliest began to experience the keyboard in their early 20s."
One of the most common examples of this is the laugh-crying emoji or face with tears of joy. Gen Z might find this emoji "cringe" and prefer to use the loudly crying face "because of its over-the-topic design, which indicates being overwhelmed with how hilarious a situation is, or the skull, the slang phrase 'I'm dying laughing' turning into 'I'm dead,'" explains Broni.
Careful which crying emoji you use.
There are several crying emojis to choose from, but one is actually a sleeping face emoji with a snot bubble, not a tear.
"This emoji's design is inspired by conventions in Japanese anime and manga, where a little snot bubble indicates that a character is tired or sleeping," explains Broni. "But because emojis are so small on our devices, many people see this face and think it's a crying face."
"Not the worst mistake if the other person is unaware of the Japanese cultural connotation, but it would definitely cause confusion if they are aware—it could look like you are bored by the sad news someone has shared with you!" adds Broni.
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It's not just a blue baseball cap.
You might be seeing the blue baseball cap emoji pop up a lot on TikTok. And the hidden meaning of this emoji has nothing to do with an outfit of the day or sports team, and everything to do with a Gen Z slang association "where people will respond 'cap' when they're accusing someone of lying, or state 'no cap' when they are declaring that they're telling the truth," says Broni.
You think you're saying "OK," but you're actually being offensive.
Watch out for the "OK" hand symbol. In parts of Europe and Latin America, it doesn't mean everything is alright or perfect.
"[The] OK hand can veer from rude to highly offensive, depending on the context in which it is being used," says Broni.
But also be careful with the thumbs-up emoji, which has a historically offensive connotation in the Middle East, Broni adds.
"The thumbs up, especially by itself, is the equivalent of texting someone back just 'OK,' and in both cases, you don't really mean, things are OK," says Natalie Pennington, MD, assistant professor of communication studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
No, that's not a hospital.
Another common emoji mistake is the building with a heart on it. Some might think this is a hospital or a wedding chapel. Turns out, its true meaning is more NSFW, as it is a "love hotel" or a "rent-by-the-hour accommodation" says Broni. Facepalm emoji.
That corn emoji might be NSFW.
Speaking of NSFW, you probably know the eggplant and peach emojis have sexual connotations, but did you know the corn emoji does too?
"Corn rhymes with 'porn' and [is] used heavily on TikTok for sexually explicit content," says Chase Cassine, LCSW, a New Orleans-based psychotherapist.
"Every emoji [is] filled with double entendres with a literal meaning and secondary meanings that evolve as time goes on," Cassine adds. "Therefore, it is imperative to understand the meanings before using them to communicate a message to avoid embarrassment and offensive or sexually explicit messages."