With two teenage daughters, I’ll be the first to admit that communication can sometimes be a challenge. I rant quite often about tone of voice and how something can be misinterpreted simply by how you say it. (Ironically, I often say it with an attitude-ridden tone myself.) We also talk to the girls about how words can be powerful – or powerless – depending on how you decide to accept them.
So when you’re living in a digital age, handling all the non-verbal communication isn’t an equally difficult problem, it’s far worse. You can’t detect inflection. You cannot hear tone of voice. You don’t know if they are happy or sad when they provide a one-word response like “Fine”, offer a thumbs up or some random acronym-of-the-day. There is more room for misunderstanding and here’s the sad part: people don’t even realize it.
Think about how many people thought (or think) the brown triangular emoji is ice cream. They made an entire game out of that one and it wasn’t called “Chocolate Ice Cream.” These concepts are so simple, so how is it possible that people don’t all read it the same way?
U.S. Cellular is aware that sometimes people have been mistaken about the meaning behind various emojis so they created an infographic and video to help set the record straight. Yet even some of their explanations were different than what I thought they meant. As an example, the one they have labeled as High 5’s, I always thought was someone praying. Kennedy said she just learned that it means High 5 whereas she used to think it meant something else. :Shrug: <–Can’t misinterpret that, can you? Originally, you simply tipped your head to the side to see the picture of the smiley face – or some other simplistic version. In the good ol’ days, we actually wrote out our emotes. For example, while playing games like Asheron’s Call or World of Warcraft, typing /e shrug would make your character emote that action if the developer had written it into the program. It came after the 🙂 but well before what we have now.
One of the problems is that each platform displays the emojis differently. What you are seeing on your iPhone X may be different than what your friend sees on her Samsung Galaxy Note8. Maybe on your phone (or chat program) it is obvious what you are trying to convey, yet on another phone it may not be as easy to tell. If you check out the Emoji chart at Unicode.org, you’ll see the vast array of what should be the same icon.
These are some of the frequently misinterpreted emojis:
Astonished face: The astonished face is a face with a round, open mouth and either wide open eyes or two X’s for eyes. While it actually represents astonishment or surprise, the eyes on some platforms lead many to believe that it represents a dead face, which is not a message one wants to unintentionally send.
Triumphant face: Known as the “face with look of triumph” or “face with steam from nose,” this emoji features furrowed eyebrows, closed eyes and steam coming from the face. While the steam is meant to show a look of power and triumph, it appears this one is frequently interpreted as the face of frustration or someone ‘in a huff.’
Confounded face: With a round, yellow face with eyebrows, triangular eyes pointed toward one another and a squiggly mouth, most think this is meant to express worry or stress. However, the original intent was to convey confusion.
Person tipping hand: This image of a girl holding out her hand as if she were a waitress carrying an invisible tray of drinks was originally known as “information desk person.” I personally think she looks like she’s kind of shrugging. Many also use this emoji to convey sassiness or sarcasm. Confused much? Oh wait, that was the prior emoji.
Folded hands: I’m throwing in the towel on this one. They say it means please or thank you, but I’m dead set on it looking like someone praying.
This is further complicated by the emojis that carry slang terminology. If you’re curious, I encourage you to check out Emojipedia. You may be surprised by what you’re actually saying when you mean to be saying something else. If you have teenagers, you should bookmark Emojipedia and refer back to it whenever you check your kids’ conversations. This upcoming April, there is even a movie about parents deciphering their teenagers’ text messages!
Ultimately, if you want to be clear about what you’re trying to say and how you’re trying to say it, then pick up the phone and talk. After all, that’s the original purpose of having a phone anyhow.
Have you ever misinterpreted a text message?