Suzy here! I have some bad news for you. A couple of weeks ago, in my August SO in the KNOW post, I told you about an article I had stumbled across in the Wall Street Journal that left me speechless. (And that doesn’t happen very often!) I couldn’t believe what I was reading! The article, entitled “Sending Smiley Emojis? They Now Mean Different Things to Different People,” broke the devastating news (to emoji-lover me, at least!) that Gen Z has adopted new meanings for common emojis.
And it’s become an intergenerational minefield.
I would use an emoji here to express how this news has crushed me, but I’m afraid of sending the wrong message! What happened next was that I sent the following text to my Gen Z assistant, Natalie. (She answers my texts faster than my own kids — I think because I pay her!) To my astonishment, she confirmed that it was true — that emoji may not mean what you think!
Gen Z is by far the most tech-savvy generation, so I asked Natalie to gently break the truth about those emojis we’ve been using. After all, who knows WHAT IN THE WORLD we’ve actually been saying to our kids! This informative (and pretty fun!) post is the result of our hard-hitting investigation and research into this matter (hahaha), so read on to get the scoop on all the new emoji meanings and which ones you should (or shouldn’t) be using! The meanings and implications of certain emojis have changed since they first came out (over 20 years ago). Read on to find out what you need to know.
Take it away, Natalie. And please, be gentle!
The Age of Digital Communication
Growing up with electronics and social media, Gen Z-ers have learned to communicate in a completely different way than how our parents learned. Gen-Z primarily communicates via text, Snapchat, DM’s, and other social media platforms. In fact, the high level of online communication we participate in leads many to wonder if social media is causing my generation to experience difficulty in real-world relationships and face-to-face interactions.
One thing emojis do is allow us to interact socially with less pressure. As much as we wish we could, we cannot always be witty conversationalists, and emojis mean we don’t have to be. Memes, which poke fun at how Gen Z-ers communicate with emojis these days, have taken off in the social media world. They are a great way to understand just how much emojis play a part in Gen Z’s expression of themselves and their feelings via text.
These days, almost all millennials and Gen Z-ers use emojis to express their thoughts and feelings without words. With emojis, you can communicate many things, including facial expressions, with just a few icons. It cuts down on typing time and is an efficient way to communicate (with those who understand emoji-speak). These days, some in my generation even feel that a text without an emoji may seem short, rude, or too serious! Sometimes simply adding a thumbs up or a 🙌 can be all you need to ease any tension that could arise from a misinterpreted text tone.
Typically, when we encounter someone who doesn’t use any emojis, we can tell they’re a lot older than us or someone we have a strictly professional relationship with.
New Slang = New Emoji Meanings
The thing about emojis is that there are still a limited number of them, especially compared to the expansive vocabulary we have. This is why we’ve had to get very creative to help us communicate non-verbally. Some emojis are even being used to express complex emotions, body language, or a new type of humor.
New emoji meanings evolve in relation to how society uses certain words rather than anything inherently related to the symbol itself. Often the trends will start on a single platform, like Twitter, Instagram, or TikTok, and the more people who identify with it and pick it up, the quicker it spreads. Twitter has played a massive role in the spread of new emoji meanings, as the platform is literally based on short communications – and the same with social media comments in general. Sometimes the meaning is related to a visual metaphor (see the Proceed With Caution section of this post below), and other times, it relates to verbal language or slang.
Sarcasm and irony have also played a special role in emoji trends, mainly because it can be challenging to detect irony in plain text. Emojis give users a way to work around that obstacle. For example, it can be easy to signal irony by adding a wink to an otherwise serious text.
I will do my best to explain the connection between emojis and their slang pairings. Still, one of the best resources I can recommend for further investigation of new phrases is Urban Dictionary.
1.🔥 = Lit / Hot
This emoji rarely indicates actual fire. Instead, most young people use it to express that someone or something is hot or attractive. It can also express the slang term “lit,” which means something is cool or awesome.
Here is an example of “lit” in a conversation:
A dad to his kids: I got four tickets for the Texas Rangers game tonight!
The kids to their dad: That’s lit!
2. 🧢 = Cap / That’s Cap
This emoji is not simply a hat. Often it takes the place of the new slang term, “cap” or “that’s cap,” which means “lie” or “that’s a lie.” Sometimes you may see 🚫🧢 used, which means “no cap,” or “I’m not lying.”
Here is an example of 🧢 , or cap, in a text conversation:
My friend: I just got a DM from Roger Federer.
My friend: 🚫🧢
This emoji is often used to tell someone that they’re dumb or that something they did was silly or embarrassing.
Here is an example of 🤡 in a text conversation:
Me: The waiter just told me to enjoy my meal, and I said “thanks, you too!” to him…🤦♀️
My brother: 🤡
4. ☕️ = Tea / Spill The Tea
To “spill the tea” means to “tell me the news.” Tea can also just stand for juicy news or gossip.
Here is an example of ☕️ in a text conversation:
My friend: omg, I’ve got tea👀
Me: Spill the tea!!☕️
My friend: My parents just found out that their new neighbor is a Dallas Cowboys player!
5. 💀 / ☠️ = Dead / I’m Dead
If someone says “I’m dead” or “dead,” that typically means they are laughing so hard that they died, or they can’t believe something is so funny or embarrassing.
Here is an example of 💀, or “I’m dead” in a text conversation:
Me: This morning I was driving with the windows down, and when I pulled up to a stoplight I was singing Bohemian Rhapsody… you’ll never believe this, but I was singing Freddy Mercury’s part, and the guy next to me rolled down his window and started singing the chorus with me🤣
My friend: 💀 I’m dead. That is SO funny!
6. 💯 = “Keep it One Hunnid”
The 💯 emoji essentially means “awesome” OR “keep it one hunnid”! Keep it “one hunnid,” AKA one hundred, means that someone is going to keep it real with you, or be 100% honest. If that still isn’t clear, see the conversation below to understand context.
Me to my friend (who just tried on a risky fashion trend): I’m going to keep it one hunnid with you… that was not your best look.
This emoji is often used in a sarcastic tone to respond to something that is not at all drool-worthy.
Here is an example of 🤤 in a text conversation:
My brother: I just got pooped on by a bird for the second time this week!
8. 🙂 or 🙃
Caution: this is NOT a soft smile! If you use this emoji as a young person, you are often attempting to convey awkwardness/discomfort in a situation. It can also be used to indicate frustration.
Here is an example of 🙂 , used to convey discomfort, in a text conversation:
My friend: I just got off my flight… guess who sat next to me for THREE HOURS
My friend: My ex🙂
Here is an example of 🙂, used to convey frustration in a text conversation:
Me (to my sister): My blue sweater is gone again, did you take it after I asked you not to?🙂
My sister: Maybe😅
Here is an example of 🙃, used to convey frustration, in a text conversation:
Me (to my friend): My roommate ate all of my peanut butter again🙃
My friend: omg… you need to have a talk with her!
Gen Z often uses this crying face to express dramatic feelings such as laughter, anger, frustration, or embarrassment. For example, if someone says something funny, you could respond with this, meaning you are crying laughing. If someone says something sad or tells you a story that is frustrating, you can respond with this. Some people still use this to represent actual crying, but it is typically millennials or older people who do that.
Here is an example of 😭, used to convey frustration, in a text conversation:
My friend: The landlord won’t give me back my deposit because I sublet my apartment last summer without telling the property management…
Here is an example of 😭, used to convey laughter, in a text conversation:
My brother: Dad just told our neighbor that you taught him how to “photochop”… (i.e., “photoshop”)
Me: 😭 no…
This emoji was initially intended to represent a high-five, but most people use it to signify praying hands. Gen Z uses this emoji to say “please” or “thank you.”
Here is an example of 🙏, used to convey please and thank you, in a text conversation:
Me: Can you tell me which city the conference is in next year🙏 I forgot
My friend: Chicago!
Me: thank you! 🙏
This combination of emojis typically stands for shock, disgust, or surprise. Sometimes it even means “it is what it is.” If I had to liken it to another expression, it would be the 😳 face.
This reaction is often seen in TikTok video comments, in reference to a bystander’s likely reaction to whatever happened in the video.
12. 👉 👈
The two fingers pointing at one another often stand for shyness. Imagine someone twiddling their fingers together and kicking their feet a bit. It can also mean “me?”
13. No ❤️
This is often called a fairy comment, something that popped up on TikTok earlier this year. This type of comment is extremely sarcastic and often features a harsh truth followed by a soft emoji such as 🦋 or ✨.
Here are some examples of fairy comments:
“You can do anything you put your mind to😌just not this❤️”
“This has been the ✨worst✨ day ever”
“I know talent when I see it😃 and I’m still looking😘”
“Words can’t describe you😍 but numbers can! 2/10🤪💋”
14. 😤 🤧 😷
These emojis are often assumed to mean someone is sick and blowing their nose, but they actually signify being angry or disgusted with something or someone. They are another way of expressing this 😡 emoji.
This is the new 😂 emoji. The 😂 now signifies a sarcastic laugh or can be used on rare occasions when something is actually very hilarious.
Proceed With Caution
A few emojis don’t necessarily have a new meaning, but you still may want to think twice before including them in a text. Proceed with caution when using the following emojis, which most Gen Z-ers and Millennials will have a chuckle at, even if the context is serious.
There’s no classy way to say these things, but I will do my best to explain in hopes it might spare even one of you some embarrassment! 🤣 Be careful using any emoji that is, or resembles, a body part, or suggests any activity or facial expression that could be interpreted inappropriately. Examples include, but are not limited to: 🍆 😏 🍑 👅 💦
To Use (Emojis) or Not to Use
You may wonder when exactly emojis are appropriate to use and when they’re not. I recently found out that there are even full articles about our generation using emojis out of context! 😳 (Hint: This 😂 emoji signifies hysterical laughter, NOT tears!)
Some things to keep in mind:
- Avoid emojis in professional/business communications.
- Avoid intense emojis when responding to upsetting situations (do not respond to the news of a death with a crying emoji – instead opt for a heart or no emojis at all).
- Avoid emojis during serious text conversations, unless you’re intentionally trying to lighten the mood.
I hope this cleared up any confusion you might have about new emoji meanings. If you have any more questions, drop them below, and I will answer them for you!
Suzy: Didn’t Natalie do an amazing job? I’ve shared it often before, but it’s worth saying again: There are lots of reasons that I have assistants that are the age of my kids (and many of yours). A big one is the light they can shine on their generation, which can be so helpful to us as parents! If you appreciate this post, I’d be grateful if you’d leave a comment for Natalie below and let her know! xoxo