In case you haven’t heard, Gen Z has apparently “canceled” a handful of emoji, including the thumbs-up. That’s absolutely not true, but it’s brought something interesting to light. Do people not realize emojis have multiple meanings, just like words do?
This all came about from a silly news cycle that was based on a year-old Reddit comment. The comment was simply about how younger people (under 35) like to use the thumbs-up emoji in a passive-aggressive way. News outlets ran with it, and suddenly, there was a list of 10 emojis that Gen Z is trying to “cancel.”
An Eggplant Isn’t Always an Eggplant
So what’s going on here? Well, it’s really not that new of a phenomenon. Just like words can be used in many different contexts, emojis have evolved to mean more than their generic descriptions.
A thumbs-up 👍 can mean you agree or you like something, but it can also be a passive-aggressive “sure whatever.” Think of how you might use a thumbs-up in real life in the same manner. You don’t really agree, but you’re done arguing.
You might use the word “sure” in the same way. It can be a wholehearted “sure!” or a less-than-thrilled “sure.” Language is complicated, and text communication can complicate it even more, but this is certainly not new with emojis.
Some double meanings are pretty obvious. Most people know the eggplant 🍆 emoji is used as a stand-in for a certain male appendage. Likewise, the peach 🍑 emoji is often used to represent someone’s derriere. But there are a lot of other emoji that have double meanings you may not be as familiar with.
The herb 🌿emoji is also used for a certain plant-based recreation drug. The hot face 🥵 isn’t just for when you’re feeling hot in temperature, if you catch my drift. A butterfly 🦋 can also be used for a crush, like the “butterflies in your stomach” expression. The cap 🧢 emoji can mean “no lie,” based on the slang “no cap.” You get the idea.
People use emoji in many different ways. Just like you might need to figure out someone’s sense of humor or sarcasm, you can also pick up on how people communicate with emoji. Language is messy, and we’re all just trying our best to communicate with the tools at our disposal. If you’re unsure about what someone means with an emoji, there’s nothing wrong with asking.