These Are the 10 Most Confusing Emojis of All Time

Last year, Apple released hundreds of new emoji as part of iOS 11.1, putting a slew of striking, text-ready visuals into the hands of iPhone users, including those who got their hands on the most advanced version of the phone, the iPhone X.

While most emoji are reasonably straightforward, not all of them have a clear meaning to those who aren’t especially familiar with this pictorial form of communication, even if they otherwise consider themselves an Android or iPhone power user or regularly use emoji marketing techniques.

Many avid emoji users may be surprised to discover that some of their favorite emoji, both old and new, don’t mean what they think they do. With that in mind, here is a guide to some of the most confusing emoji available, as defined by the emoji-oriented resource, Emojipedia.

Sleepy Face

The emoji dubbed sleepy face is one that often throws people for a loop, thanks to the addition of that tear-shaped blue bubble. While many assumed that the bubble was either a tear, making them equate the emoji to crying, or possibly sweat, it’s actually supposed to be a snot bubble.

Why a snot bubble? Because that is a common depiction of sleeping in Japanese cartoons, similar to the use of “Zzz.”

There is an emoji called sleeping face that actually has the “Zzz” on it, making it more recognizable to people in the U.S. For the sake of simplicity, consider this one an international companion to that image.


Most people have noticed the money-mouth emoji, as it has been around since 2015. It typically features dollar signs for eyes, which may or may not be green, as well as a generally green tongue (though Samsung’s version is pink), often also featuring a dollar sign (though it may resemble a bill).

While the association with money is clear, the precise definition can be somewhat hazy. According to Emojipedia, it is meant to represent “a love of money” or “a feeling of wealth.” So, the next time you’re discussing a particularly lucrative VC pitch over text, the money-mouth emoji should be considered a relevant addition to the message.

Folded Hands

Many people equate the folded hands emoji with either prayer or a high-five, depending on the precise image being used. However, this was originally intended to represent “please” or “thank you” based on Japanese culture.

Some platforms show only the hands, while others feature them in front of a person (or alien, in the case of certain Android versions), with the person variant very much resembling a position of prayer.

A previous version of the emoji, originally featured in the iOS 6 release from Apple, likely added to the confusion, as it featured radiant yellow light behind the hands that led many to think of it as prayer, based on its similarity to depictions of halos in art, or as the impact of two hands coming together in a high-five.

Person Gesturing OK

While the position of the person gesturing OK emoji may remind some of particular laughing Buddha statues (or even the dance for the Village People song “YMCA”), it is actually just the full-body version of the OK hand gesture.

Since the posture isn’t used very frequently in the U.S., it’s no surprise that many people aren’t familiar with it, but it only means OK.

Person Bowing

Another emoji that is likely to cause some confusion outside of Japan and those familiar with the culture is the person bowing emoji. This shows someone with their head positioned over the hands with a series of triangles or lines over the head.

Some people correlated the image to a person doing a push-up, resting their head on their hands, or even preparing for a massage. What it is actually meant to represent is a dogeza, where a person bows on their knees, touching their head to the floor, which is used to convey a sincere apology or as a sign of respect when requesting a substantial favor.

Dashing Away

Let’s face it, a lot of people associated this emoji with flatulence. But this little puff of air is actually supposed to represent the fast movement of an object, such as a car or person, similar to what you see in cartoons.

So, if you have to rush off to a meeting, this one is appropriate.

Anger Symbol

Unless you are familiar with anime or manga, this one likely didn’t register as a symbol of anger. It’s said to be representative of veins popping out when someone gets angry, but most people wouldn’t make that assumption if they haven’t seen it displayed.

At times, the words “BAM!” or “POW!” accompany the image, which may provide some clarity, but that isn’t usually shown in the emoji versions of the icon.

But if you find yourself frustrated over something, like Facebook’s proposed news feed changes, this emoji is a suitable way to express it.

White Flower

While this emoji seems simple on the surface, since it is reminiscent of a cherry blossom, it actually has a deeper meaning thanks to the Japanese writing inside (though it isn’t included in all versions of the emoji) which roughly translates to “well done” or “you did very well.”

Teachers in Japan often use a stamp with the symbol to mark school work that met a high standard, so consider it an appropriate option when offering “kudos” to a member of your team for a job well done.

A Note on Emoji

While many emoji display similarly on every device, some actually don’t. For example, the grimacing-face emoji features clenched teeth, but the face’s expression isn’t consistent across all platforms, making some appear angry while others seem worried, embarrassed, or even sad.

The hushed-face and face screaming in fear are other examples where the results vary depending on the phone. The Samsung face screaming in fear (pictured first) is particularly amusing when compared to the Apple version (we should all be glad that our fears don’t manifest that way on our faces).

Before you send an emoji to someone using another phone, it’s helpful to see if what they’ll see matches up with what you meant to express.

Granted, serious business communications rarely feature emoji, as doing so can have the same effect as overloading your messages with clichés and overused buzz phrases. But if you do use one, it’s smart to make sure that your message won’t be misunderstood simply because the image displays differently on each device.

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About the Author

Larry Kim is the CEO of MobileMonkey — provider of the World’s Best Facebook Messenger Marketing Platform. He’s also the founder of WordStream.

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Larry Kim

CEO of MobileMonkey. Founder of WordStream. Top columnist @Inc ❤️ AdWords, Facebook Advertising, Marketing, Entrepreneurship, Start-ups & Venture Capital 🦄