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Incorrect use of emojis: This is what the colorful icons really mean

Emojis + Messenger (Image: Freepik)

Many emojis are used in the wrong way because users misinterpret their meaning. We’ll explain what to look out for.

Why you should use emojis sparingly in a business context

If you Whatsapp , Telegram or use another messenger for private communication, the messages are likely to be colorful. Because most people spice up their texts with pictures, animations, videos and emojis.

Do you also use Messenger in customer communication? Then we advise as recorded in our “Messenger etiquette” To use emojis very rarely or not at all.

Why? On the one hand, the colorful pictograms can seem too dubious. On the other hand, they encourage misunderstandings. Because: Not all emojis necessarily have the meaning that you have in your head! Many smileys offer a lot of space for interpretation. Some are even used completely wrong.

What does emoji actually mean?

The term “emoji” comes from Japanese. It stands for an electronic pictorial symbol, i.e. a modern pictogram.

Emojis are mainly used in messengers and social networks. For example, they should express feelings in the form of smileys.

And what is an emoticon?

Emojis are a further development of the emoticons. The term is made up of the words “emotion” and “icon”. The most famous emoticon is this:

Emojis and their different presentation

The perfidious thing about the emojis is that they look a little different on every system and program. This is because the Unicode consortium determines the type of pictograms, but not the exact design. Any company that uses the emojis can design this themselves.

As a result, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Samsung or Facebook implement the pictograms a little differently than their competitors.

Well-known emojis and their incorrect use

Do you know exactly what each emoji means? And are you sure that your friends and customers also know what the colorful icons stand for?

Here are a few examples that show how some emojis are misinterpreted:

  • ?
    Is that smiley crying? Does it have a runny nose? No, it’s supposed to be a tired face! That is the meaning according to the Unicode Consortium.
  • ?
    In many programs, this smiley appears to be desperate or frustrated. In reality it is called “weary face”, which translates as “tired face”.
  • ?
    This face also looks like it’s desperate, doesn’t it? But it’s just meant to represent another level of fatigue.
  • ?
    This emoji is seething with anger one might think. According to the inventors, however, it is only a pout.
  • ?
    If someone sends this picture, they are really angry. Might be. But actually this emoji embodies a triumph.
  • ?
    Do you understand this smiley is thinking and not feeling down?
  • ?
    Is that a strange grin? Or baring your teeth? The “grinning face”, so the original meaning, leaves a lot of room for interpretation.
  • ?
    Is this emoji disgusting? Did it eat something bad? Or does it stick its tongue out at the recipient to tease him? The latter is the case.
  • ?
    High five! Right? No. This symbol represents praying hands or gratitude.
  • ? ‍♀️
    This lady does karate or other sports exercises? Or do the crossed arms form the letter X? The official name gives it away: “Woman gesturing No”.

Caution: emojis and their ambiguous meanings

Interpreting facial expressions can be difficult. How about simple pictures like bananas, raindrops, scissors and honey pots? They can also be misunderstood!

The emojis mentioned, as well as peaches, eggplants, volcanoes and donuts, have a sexual interpretation in addition to their actual meaning. If you use these in their ambiguous meaning, your Facebook account may be blocked.


There is a lot of room for interpretation when it comes to emojis. Some symbols mean something very different from what you and your customers might think. In addition, the context can give a pictogram a different effect.

The bottom line is that you are putting yourself on thin ice when you use emojis. This can cause unnecessary stress in a business environment. We therefore recommend that you use the colorful icons in messenger communication as rarely as possible.

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Image: Freepik

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