From the snorting face to the Easter Island statue to the shooting star, we misinterpret the original intent or origin of quite a few famous emoji.
As some of you know, I recently developed a card game and launched it on Kickstarter. It’s called Emoji Cards and it’s like charades with emoji — you use emoji on cards to get your teammates to guess pop culture clues. If you haven’t preordered it there yet, you REALLY should. Everyone who plays it legitimately loves it and even if you don’t want it, it’ll come before the holiday season so you can give it as a sweet gift.
Ok. Now on to the this list.
In the process of creating the game, I had to study every single emoji and I quickly discovered something: A lot of them don’t mean what we think they do.
I picked out these 11 that might be misinterpreted by most people… were drawn incorrectly by Apple… or can only really be understood when they’re blown up to a larger size. Check ’em out…
1 | Snorting mad
What it’s supposed to be: Triumphant face
I’m not sure how this one got lost in translation, but most sets of emoji make it look like a guy who’s so angry that smoke is coming out of his nose like a cartoon bull about to gore a cartoon matador. Officially, this face is supposed to be someone in an ultimate moment of triumph — not (oh Lord, please forgive this) an ultimate moment of harumph.
2 | Random islands
What it’s supposed to be: Japan
It’s hard to see the shape of Japan in the tiny version of this emoji on a cell phone screen. (Plus, even if we could, we Westerners would have to know what Japan looks like.) Basically, this one sets up the rule for a lot of this list: Since emoji are originally Japanese, when in doubt, assume the answer is “Japan.”
3 | Shooting star
What it’s supposed to be: Dizzy symbol
For whatever reason, Apple decided to eschew the swirling dizzy stars of Looney Tunes fame for this shooting star/”The More You Know” knockoff. Which is fitting, since this post is kind of like a smarmy, non-socially conscious “The More You Know.”
4 | Easter Island head
What it’s supposed to be: Moyai
An Easter Island head most likely wouldn’t have made the cut if Japan didn’t have its own. There’s a famous statue in Tokyo called Moyai (pictured below) that served as the inspiration for the Japanese including this in the first set of emoji.
5 | Get well soon
What it’s supposed to be: Hotel for prostitutes
The “H” on the building coupled with the heart lead to the logical conclusion it’s a “get well soon” emoji — but no. It’s for a Japanese love hotel that rents by the hour. A perfect place to really make use of the eggplant emoji, amiright? Ladies?
6 | Gold record
What it’s supposed to be: Minidisc
Antiquated technological products get a huge number of spots in the official emoji set (VHS tape, camcorder, pager, floppy disc, five different mailboxes, Rolodex, and so on). But arguably none is as antiquated as the Minidisc — a form of audio media that caught on horribly in the U.S. about two decades ago and only slightly better in Japan.
7 | Fire with a white line through it for some reason
What it’s supposed to be: Name tag
It turns out this shape (which is supposed to be a tulip, not a flame) is used in lieu of “Hello, My Name Is” name tags in Japan. When Microsoft created their set of emoji for Windows, they even replaced the symbol with a more American-style name badge.
8 | Generic brown fish
What it’s supposed to be: Pufferfish
The detail of this emoji is impossible to see small. I was quite upset when I finally saw this one larger. I mean, I can’t believe I had this at my disposal with its Simpsons referencing goodness and never would’ve found it if I hadn’t made my game.
9 | Lightning
What it’s supposed to be: High voltage symbol
This should just become “lightning” for its own sake. How many times do you need to graphically express “high voltage”? Once in your life? Only in an emoji recreation of Jurassic Park? Never? Meanwhile, lightning is far more common. It’s like how the grocery stores put ping pong balls in the beer aisle now instead of the little toys and games section. Sometimes something’s alternate purpose is far more popular than the original.
10 | Um… maybe a Japanese root?
What it’s supposed to be: Sweet potato
Just add this to the collection of the many, many useless food emoji. Not that we don’t eat sweet potatoes, but we like ours orange and not sweet potatoes at all but yams.
11 | Prayer hands / high five
What it’s supposed to be: Please or thank you
We can’t agree if it’s two hands praying or two hands high fiving — and the Japanese definitively answer: “Neither.”
And remember, please pledge our Kickstarter. I will even throw in something extra for any 11 Points readers who do, just let me know you ordered it…