I Asked Three Different Generations What These 14 Emojis Mean And Got Wildly Different Responses

The versatility of "?" is mind-blowing.

Different generations have verrry different outlooks on life. We view work, the internet, technology, media, and fashion differently — hell, we can’t even agree on a type of jean that’s cool.

Sooo, of course, when it comes to emoji use, it’s safe to say Gen Z, millennials, Gen X, and boomers are kind of all over the place.

A recent poll revealed certain emojis that Gen Z would NEVER use, but I wanted to know more about their emoji use in the first place, and how it compares to older generations’. So, I decided to ask three different generations how they use certain emojis.

I talked to two members of Gen Z:

Jo (they/them): a 14-year-old high school freshman

Michael (he/him) : a 13-year-old 8th grader

Two millennials:

Emily (she/her): a 35-year-old writer and professor

Sam (she/they): a 29-year-old writer and artist

And two people in their 50s:

Ant (he/him): a 57-year-old medical professional (Gen X’er)

Mike (he/him): a late-50s medical professional (baby boomer)

Before I asked about specific emojis, I asked for their thoughts on generational emoji use.

Jo, a Gen Z'er, said that their generation doesn't use emojis "the way they’re supposed to be used," and instead, uses them "in an ironic way." They added, "We use emojis a lot as a joke or to imitate someone who would use them literally.”
Xavier Lorenzo / Getty Images

“If I use a laughing emoji, it would be to imitate someone who uses that emoji.”

“Gen Z evolves really fast. If something's funny one day, it’s not necessarily funny the next day, so you have to keep up."
Miguel Pereira / Getty Images

"Older generations use emojis very literally. They’re used to longer trends, so they don’t realize when something’s not funny anymore. It’s hard for them to keep up.”

Sam, a millennial, said she thinks younger generations "use emojis as punctuation or as a shorthand response." But "older generations and people not on the ‘net use them in a more serious way.”
Klaus Vedfelt / Getty Images
Ant, a member of Gen X, said that he uses emojis more "in response to other people's texts." He added, "Younger generations use emojis more than we do. I'm more apt to just type something out."
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And Mike, a baby boomer, said that he thinks older generations are "less likely to use emojis than other generations."

Next, I randomly picked some emojis and asked them what they mean to them or how they use it. Here's what they had to say:

The "skull" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: "Gives off an 'I’m dead’ vibe, or you can use it as a substitute for ‘bruh.’"

Michael: “If something’s stupid.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: “'Dead,' like 'this thing made me laugh so hard, I died' or 'I'm so shocked by something, but not in a scary way.'”

Sam: "Like, death from embarrassment or 'I’ve decided to pass away,' either from funnies or shock."

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "I don't think I've ever used it, and I'm not sure how I would."

Mike: "I've never used it, but I would if I was saying someone is toxic."

The "loudly crying face" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “Laughing at something, but something that isn’t meant to be funny, like something traumatic.”

Michael: “Like, someone getting injured, but I’m laughing at it.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "'Omg that’s so beautiful' or 'cute' or 'good' or 'pure.'”

Sam: "My number-one most used emoji, literally always. Mostly used when I'm super happy or, like, feeling very loved. Sometimes, I use it when I'm sad but not, like, ~Real Sad~."

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "If something really sad happened to me or to the person I'm texting, like if their cat died or something."

Mike: "If I heard somebody died, or if I was talking about an emotional movie."

The "weary face" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “If you were reacting to a hot person.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: “'贬别濒辫!'”

Sam: "'I can’t believe this' or 'why hath god forsaken me?'”

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "If I was sad about something, like bad news. Or, if I can’t make it to your party."

Mike: "Bad news, sad news. But not somebody dying."

The "hot face" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Michael: “To tell your friends they’re hot, sarcastically, or as a joke.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "Overwhelmed, but I know it’s probably horny."

Sam: "'This person is so hot I’m sweaty.'"

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "Never used it, but 'it’s really hot in here.'"

Mike: "If it’s like 101 degrees, and I’m feeling hot."

The "smiling face with hearts" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “A passive-aggressive way of bullying someone online. I see people use it in TikTok comments after they say something mean, like, ‘I hate you. ?’”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "'Thank you, I’m feeling your kindness.'"

Sam: "I don’t use this a lot, but it’s like when someone appreciates something I did, I’ll use this as a ‘you’re welcome.'"

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "If I was expressing love or caring about something or if I was happy to do something."

Mike: "If my family says something nice or sends me baby pictures. Or, if we're gonna get together or have a party. Basically, a happy state of mind."

The "folded hands" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “It's very versatile — you can use it if you think someone’s hot, after you thank someone, or ‘please,' like you're begging someone."

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "'Let’s hope so.'"

Sam: "'Please.'"

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "The most annoying emoji. Someone will send me prayer hands if they want me to be safe, like, 'Have a safe trip.' Ugh, old people use them. It's what old Facebook people send."

Mike: "I use it like, 'God bless.'"

The "face with raised eyebrow" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “If something is, I hate this word, but ‘sus’ or if someone said something questionable or weird.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: “'Really?!' or 'really…hmm interesting,' but sarcastically.”

Sam: "I don’t think I’ve ever used this because I usually use ?, but typically, it’s like, 'That’s suspicious' or 'That’s weird.'"

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "Never used it, but I would use it as, 'Hmm, I wonder, that’s a tricky situation,' or if I’m kind of skeptical about the situation or what you’re saying."

Mike: "If someone says something against my beliefs or principles. Or, 'I don’t believe you.'"

The "exploding head" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “If someone tells me something I already know, basically sarcastically shocked."

Michael: “Sarcastically, like, ‘No shit, Sherlock,’ or if someone tells me something I don’t care about.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "'Mind blown.'"

Sam: "'Mind blown.'"

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "Never used it, but if I was having a DAY, and there was so much going on, and my brain just exploded from bullshit."

Mike: "I’ve never seen this emoji, but I would use it, maybe if i’m confused or overwhelmed."

The "nail polish" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “'Gay' or 'slay.' Queer people use it to describe themselves. I feel like mostly queer people of color used it years ago, and then, other people started to use it ironically, like, I feel like a lot of straight guys use it ironically with their friends.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "A fancy thing."

Sam: “Literally, any time I’m talking about a queer person (myself included)."

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "Just chilling, relaxing."

Mike: "If someone’s being a diva."

The "smirking face" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “Implying you’re gonna do something or hinting at something. Also, if someone's attractive, and you’re trying to be low-key about it."

Michael: “Sarcastically, when you’re being super sneaky.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "Mischievous."

Sam: "Joke flirting with my friends or if I’m up to something sneaky."

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "No idea when I would use this."

The "face with rolling eyes" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “I use it the way it’s supposed to be used.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "Eye roll."

Sam: "Eye roll."

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "If someone is telling you something about someone else, and you have no idea what that other person is talking about."

Mike: "When someone tells you they’re gonna do something stupid or dangerous."

The "melting face" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: “'I wanna die' or 'ugh, I do not wanna do this.' Basically, a distaste for wanting to do something.”

Michael: “Bothered by something you have no control over.”

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "'Everything is bad, but here I am existing.' Very similar to the 'this is fine' coffee dog meme."

Sam: "'Everything is awful, and I hate it.'"

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "I don’t know what that means."

The "eyes" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: "I’ve never used it or seen anyone use it."

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "'I'm peeping,' like, 'oooh, I'm seeing it,' 'I'm looking.'"

Sam: "'You got a secret? What do you know?'"

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Mike: "I haven’t used it. But, maybe when you see something incredulous and can’t believe your eyes."

And finally, the "rolling on the floor laughing" emoji:
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Anzhelika Poltavets / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Jo: "I'd use this to imitate someone who would use it. I'd never use it unironically."

Kseniya Ovchinnikova / Getty Images

Em: "It’s useful in more formal interactions where you don’t know if the person is getting your humor."

Jsheets19 / Getty Images

Ant: "I use this frequently — it's the one I use when something is the highest level of funny. 'Lmfao.'"

Mike: "Something's so funny that you’re in tears."

Hmm ? very interesting. Well, no matter how someone uses emojis, I think Sam said it best: “They make communicating more fun.”

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