For an image to receive the coveted status of becoming an official emoji, it needs to satisfy multiple requirements set forth by the Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit that reviews all emoji applications.
Among the factors taken into account are: expected usage level, image distinctiveness, and compatibility with apps that regularly use emoji, such as Snapchat and Twitter. But it’s also important that the emoji have references beyond its most literal meaning. The example that Unicode offers applicants is a shark, which can be used as the large saltwater fish, or, more creatively, to describe a card shark or loan shark. (Whether or not Unicode predicted how users would interpret the eggplant — which is, at heart, just a vegetable — is up for debate.)
But beyond metaphorical meanings, there are also the emoji that we think mean one thing, but were actually intended for other uses. The peace sign? Nope, it isn’t actually a peace sign. The angry face blowing steam? Nope, it isn’t actually angry.
Click through to see 21 of the most surprising meanings behind your favorite emoji. If your mind is blown, you’ll definitely want to check out the full dictionary here.
This article was originally published on August 16, 2016 at 5:20 p.m.
Looks like: A tearful person.
Is really: A disappointed but relieved face.
Use when: Your friend cancels the plans you had but you’re secretly relieved because you wanted to stay home anyway.
Looks like: Someone who uses very expressive hand gestures to convey their excitement.
Is really: A hugging face.
Use when: The heart emoji just isn’t enough.
Looks like: Someone having a temper tantrum.
Is really: A pouting face.
Use after: Being told the one product you wanted on Black Friday is already out of stock.
Looks like: Someone who is very sad.
Is really: A pensive face.
Use after: Watching the latest episode of Westworld or reading a fan theory about the show.
Looks like: Someone who is really pissed off (hence the steam coming out of their imaginary nose).
Is really: A triumphant face.
Use after: Finishing a tough workout, winning an argument, or giving a kick-ass presentation at work.
Looks like: Someone excitedly getting to work.
Is really: A person bowing deeply or apologizing.
Use when: Acknowledging that your friend was right and that you should have tried the new Thai place instead of the sushi spot you picked instead.
Looks like: A flower with a pink design.
Is really: A fish cake, often made of pureed white fish in Japan.
Use when: You’re actually eating a fish cake in Tokyo, or to tell someone that you’re craving a pastry or cake (minus the white fish).
Looks like: Someone who can’t believe what they’re hearing or seeing.
Is really: A girl “gesturing okay.”
Use when: Telling friends you’re game for this weekend’s plans.
Looks like: A shooting star.
Is really: A dizzy symbol.
Use when: You celebrated a little too hard last night.
Looks like: A surprised cat.
Is really: A weary cat.
Use when: Your cat is sleeping in an adorable position, or you’re watching endless YouTube videos of cute, tired kittens.
Looks like: Someone who is frustrated and whiny.
Is really: A tired face.
Use when: You don’t feel like leaving the warm heaven that is your bed on Monday morning.
Looks like: A town hall.
Is really: A school.
Use when: You’re laughing about your painfully bad first kiss in sixth grade.
Looks like: Some sort of waterside plant.
Is really: A sheaf of rice.
Use when: You’re going into the fields to do some harvesting. Or, you’re Instagramming a field of rice (a slightly more likely scenario).
Looks like: Someone who can’t believe what they’re seeing.
Is really: A dizzy face.
Use when: You sit up too quickly post-massage and can’t see straight.
Looks like: A peace sign.
Is really: A victory hand.
Use after: Signing a lease on a gorgeous, natural light-filled apartment, or getting a killer deal on new shoes.
Looks like: Any old plant (poison ivy, perhaps?).
Is really: An herb.
Use when: You need your roommate to pick up dill for dinner.
Looks like: “Hey, girl.”
Is really: A woman who works at an information desk.
Use when: This emoji will always be the sassy “Hey, girl” in our minds, but if you’re posting a note asking for travel advice, she’s your go-to girl.
Looks like: Someone who is annoyed beyond belief.
Is really: The face of someone who is persevering.
Use when: You’re fighting a late-Friday-afternoon slump and feeling like the weekend can’t come soon enough.
Looks like: A steaming plate of food.
Is really: A hot spring.
Use when: You’re going for a relaxing dip at one of the rejuvenating hot springs in Colorado or visiting the equally warm Blue Lagoon in Iceland.
Looks like: A strange red box.
Is really: The ultimate anger symbol.
Use when: You are so furious with someone that words and sassy anger emoji just won’t do.
Looks like: A bowl of salad
Is really: Stuffed flatbread
Use when: You’ve had your daily dose of greens.
Looks like: Someone who has just eaten their least favorite food.
Is really: A confounded face
Use when: You see someone Tweet something that’s completely tone deaf.
produced by Lauren Paige Magenta; appearance by Lucie Fink; produced by Lucie Fink.
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