An in-depth exploration of the ? Emoji
Flirting: Let?s Talk About It
It has been almost a full year since I have intentionally flirted with anyone with some endgame in mind. I have been off the market for a year and a half and at this point in life, I am not interested in a shallow hook-up that can be easily achieved with copious drinking and a soft smile.
I have slowly been re-entering the social realm, meeting people in serendipitous ways. Back in January, I met someone on an apartment tour and they suggested that we follow each other on Instagram in case we both moved into the same complex.
I would like to quickly insert that throughout my time making new friends in Austin it appears that most people are super comfortable with you following their Instagram, but won?t give out a phone number to save their lives. Instagram is somehow more approachable, and thought of as ?less intimate?. For my millennial peers, curating images of their personal life and sharing it with thousands of people is somehow easier than sharing their number and making a plan. I don?t understand it but hey, I?ll go with it.
After the apartment tour, not much came from the(m) following (me) and follow (ing them) back. Months passed and then out of nowhere they liked one of my Instagram posts. I decided to slide right into their DMs. Near the end of almost 5 (?) minutes of conversation, they asked if I wanted to grab a drink because they ?liked my vibe?. I semi-freaked out, not knowing if they were interested in being friends or more. In honest-to-god panic mode I replied, ?Let?s definitely do that ??. My response ended the conversation and I thought nothing of it. ?We?ll make plans soon!? I thought to myself.
Where the ? Goes Wrong
When recounting this interaction to a friend on the phone a few weeks later, she was IMMEDIATELY concerned. The upside down smiley was a HUGE red flag! She explained that she only ever uses ??? to reflect feelings of passive aggressiveness, sucking it up but not happy with the circumstances, grimacing, or ?FML?. I was speechless. I realized I made a huge mistake (see Fig. 1).
I started retracing my steps, horrified that I had inadvertently mislead too many people with my freestyle use of the ? emoji. I never really thought about what it meant before this, and upon reflection I realize I?ve been flinging the ? left and right with no regard for the consequences. I decided to do some quick desktop research, confident I was not the only one who was making this egregious mistake. Let us take a look at the formal definition:
? Upside-Down Face: A classic smiley, turned upside down. Implemented as a flipped version of ? Slightly Smiling Face on most platforms. Commonly used to convey irony, sarcasm, joking, or a sense of goofiness or silliness. Its intent can be similar to the bemused Oh well! of ? Person Shrugging or the shruggie emoticon, _(?)_/. Microsoft?s design previously featured a full-toothed grin. Upside-Down Face was approved as part of Unicode 8.0 in 2015 and added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015.
This definition confirmed my fears; ? is most often used in the very same way my friend described it. What I want to know is who the HELL came up with the rules on how to use emojis!? I remember the days when iPhone users didn?t know what half the emojis meant but just threw them out there anyways. How does everyone suddenly have a universal consciousness regarding emoji meanings!?
Using Twitter for the Greater Good
Newly fueled with millions of questions, I went to the polls. (If you know Captain Lon, she hates being wrong. But the way she?ll justify it is;) I needed more data so I expanded my research. Twitter is a great place to do general research on society and social norms. My account is followed by quite a few semi-famous twitter folks, plus a number of people who get maybe 8?15 likes on their best tweets like I do. In 24 hours, I got responses from 30 voters and wound up with the following results:
Whoever voted ?other? decided to NOT comment which I found pretty f*cked up. Nevertheless, Twitter confirmed the Emojipedia definition and my friend?s use case. Damn.
Though my worst fears had been confirmed twice now, I couldn?t help but notice that almost as many respondents use it as ?flirty, silly, or oops?. This brought peace to my rambling soul. I felt seen in my flirtatious usage of the emoji, but I still couldn?t shake the feeling I had messed up. I needed to know that my Insta crush (remember, this crush is based off of a 1 hour in-person interaction in January and almost 5 minutes of DM conversation 4 months later) wouldn?t be turned off by my reckless use of the ? emoji.
We Turn to Those We Love When We are in Need
Let?s say it again for the people in the back; FRIENDS ARE THE BEST. It doesn?t matter if we haven?t spoken for 3 years, I?m still gonna text and ask for your opinion. My friends are my friends because they are intelligent, thoughtful, curious, not afraid to be a little goofy, and always have a beautiful thought- out point of view I never knew existed. Good insight and curious thinking is priceless y?all. I am truly #blessed (? ).
Because my friends are true homies, I got 15 and a half responses, plus multiple contextual examples that really developed my understanding of the ? emoji. Let us review.
Q: What does the ? emoji mean to you?
It?s like a ? but also kind of a ? and a ? combined into it (EE)
Just like playful, sometimes flirty (JK)
It is a friendly yet eccentric happy face (RJ)
Hmm I?m being silly? (CH)
It means ?oop? (SC)
Kind of like the shrug but goofy about it (KA)
I use it all the time; it means ?off beat? and it can mean ?I?m quirky? to some, it can also mean something?s weird or it means ?bleghhh? (GH)
I have used it when confused or thrown off but not in a negative way, more like a let?s keep talking way (FDK)
I will text you the answer about the emoji later! (HW)
That?s a good question. Honestly the only way I can think to put it into words is it?s this ? but inverted. Inverted in a feeling sense?. So not happy, and minorly displeased (CH)
That?s hard, it?s so versatile !! I guess overall it?s just like a sarcastic smile, but lots of nuance depending on the situation i.e could be used in a flirty context (NT)
It?s like ?I?m not thrilled about this but I?m gonna smile through the bullshit? (ST)
Hmm I often use it to mean ?oh well? or ?I?m dumb? (ES)
It?s like I?m chillin but I?m also down to do something but I?m also chillin (AS)
Hm I would most often use it for flirting but sometimes I use it to break bad news that?s only marginally bad. It means a range of emotions to me both negative or positive (LW)
?I use it when what I?m feeling is either mind bending or revealing that things were upside down in a situation?or maybe that I was smiling in a situation that I ought to be frowning in? (anonymous)
Use in Context: Real Life Examples
?I?m getting treated for swimmers ear?. The doctor told me and I was like ??
?I wish I could hang out but my parent are out of town so I?m home dog sitting again ??
?I?m sure alcohol will do great things to my stomach ??
Captain Lon: Bested, but not Defeated
After desktop research, Twitter polls, and qualitative queries, the results have shown me that even though most frequently used in accordance with the Emojipedia definition, the ? is often up to interpretation of both the sender and the receiver. It seems that unless the communicators know each other well, sending the ? will most likely be interpreted as ?this situation sucks?. Knowing what I do now I will certainly exercise caution when sending a casual ? especially if the definition is in the eye of the beholder.
What would you do? Would you ever use ? to flirt? Would you send it to your grandma before you went to lunch with her sassy bridge friends? Would you use it when texting your full name to a new contact in your phone who is standing right next to you at the function?
Though some critics may opine that this analysis is too in-depth, I find it crucial to understand even the smallest gestures commonly used by my peers and colleagues today. What good is a ? if no one can understand it? Why waste a ? if you don?t even know what it means? If a picture is worth a thousand words, then an emoji can certainly make the difference between landing a first date and never speaking to a cute stranger again.