A Smile is Not Always a Smile

Language changes over the years, and so does online communication. Each decade we use words a bit differently, and one modern thing that evolves with our words are emojis, the little images we use to give extra meaning to text.

For years I’ve observed emojis in Second Life and on social media and am guilty of using them more than I should sometimes. Recently, I noticed something different about them though, and couldn’t put my finger on what. Then I realized: In some cases, the meaning of familiar emojis had totally changed, and some that used to be positive were now being used in negative ways.

In the old days if someone used a smiley face like this 🙂 it meant they were happy and had good intentions. These days, however, it’s often because someone is patronizing you, annoyed at something you said, or giving a fake grin that’s the equivalent of a real-life customer service rep putting on a happy face but who secretly wants to punch you.

Even worse? I was using the smiley this way too sometimes. I usually use 🙂 to be genuinely friendly but found myself employing it to appear lighter when I wasn’t happy.

Out of curiosity, I looked more into emojis and their modern usage and found several fairly recent articles about it. Did you know there’s a whole group of people born after the year 2000 who see emojis differently, and even view some of them as uncool?

One example of an emoji going out of style is this one. 😂 At the time of this writing, this laughing/crying emoji is apparently viewed by Generation Z as something “older people like Millenials” use.

I won’t even attempt to list the new meaning of most of them since they’re likely to change and date this article horribly, but one theme seemed to repeat itself. In general, older people are more apt to use emojis literally, as in a smiley is actually a smiley, whereas younger people tend to employ them with sarcasm.

Many in the younger generation view a smiling emoji as passive-aggressive. That may sound silly to those who’ve used it in a positive way for years but they’re right. More often than not a smiley is someone being passive-aggressive. It really depends on context, and who is doing it.

Some modern emoji usage I do like are these:

👁👄👁 = Used when you’re left speechless. Example: You saw an absurd video and are wondering “What the hell did I just watch?”

💀 = In spite of the appearance this one is actually positive. It means something was so funny the person died laughing.

Emojis can be seen as unprofessional in the workplace, but informally they’re part of our language, so I find it interesting to see other cultures and age groups using them differently.

Author: Moon Brite

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