All language is metaphorical in nature. Words have no inherent meaning, and your ability to “understand” language is based entirely on habit, personal experience, and context. And if you don’t believe me, go ask your family members what your favorite emojis mean.
Emojis are a form of language, just like the written or spoken word. And a single emoji can convey more emotion than a huge paragraph of text—assuming that the recipient understands what you’re trying to communicate, of course.
For example, a teenager may not understand the complex meaning behind the “disguised face” (🥸) emoji. This emoji is an homage to Groucho Marx, or more specifically, it’s a reference to the novelty plastic glasses that parody Groucho’s appearance.
An adult can use the “disguised face” to show that they’re in a goofy or sneaky mood, but these meanings require prior exposure to “the Groucho Marx glasses” that some people lack. Young people could even find this emoji off-putting, as it resembles the (relatively new) stereotype of a creep or predator.
The abstract meanings behind emoji is an interesting topic. But Adobe decided to investigate something a bit more exciting. It found the least understood emoji in the United States, and even discovered how age can affect your interpretation of an emoji.
According to Adobe’s 2022 U.S. Emoji Trend Report, the cowboy (🤠) cherries (🍒) and upside-down (🙃) emoji are deeply misunderstood. In fact, they are the least understood emoji across the united states, with the cowboy taking first place.
When we organize this data by age, Baby Boomers and Gen Xers come out with the same basic results—they don’t understand the cowboy, cherry, or upside-down emoji. But Millennials and Gen Zers have trouble understanding the emoji without a mouth (😶). And notably, Gen Z doesn’t get the Groucho Marx (🥸) emoji. (Not a single generation understands the cowboy, which is hilarious.)
Oddly enough, there are some emoji-centric topics that aren’t dependent on age. People in every age range say that the poop emoji (💩) is their least favorite, and that they’re more likely to use emoji in a conversation when they have a crush on someone.
What can we learn from this data? Well, probably nothing useful; it’s just really funny and interesting. Go check out the 2022 U.S. Emoji Trend Report for more data on emoji.