The most confusing and misused emoji will melt your brain | Cult of Mac

The most confusing and misused emoji will melt your brain


We have a winner: survey finds Woman Tipping Hand is most-confusing emoji.
We have a winner: Survey finds Woman Tipping Hand is the most-confusing emoji.
Photo: David Snow/Cult of Mac

Ever find yourself perplexed by the intended meaning of an emoji in a message? A recent survey suggests you’re not alone. Even on World Emoji Day (July 17), a lot of the little graphics have people scratching their heads and even offending each other.

Ukraine-based language-learning platform Preply sought to understand which emoji cause the most confusion and misuse — unintentionally or intentionally — among Americans. You can see the main findings below.

Preply survey reveals most confusing and misused emoji among Americans

Preply’s survey results kept the emphasis on the “fun and engaging” ways people use emoji, yet pointed out how confusing some of these “enigmatic characters” really are to folks.

“To delve deeper into the fascinating world of emojis, we’ve compiled a list of the most confusing emojis in America, and conducted a survey to understand how Americans use them,” the company said. It said it surveyed 1,001 Americans. You can see the methodology below.

Here’s how Preply stated its key findings:

  • A majority (78%) have been confused by someone else’s use of an emoji.
  • A surprising 1 in 3 have seen a misinterpreted emoji create an uncomfortable situation.
  • Friends are most likely to use emojis in confusing ways.

Most confusing emoji

The survey indicated a whopping 24 “most confusing” emoji, below. The names of the emoji are sourced from Emojipedia.

The top three are Person Tipping Hand (is that sassy or helpful?), Money with Wings (is that financial loss or simply a transfer of wealth?) and Nail Polish (is that just what it looks like, or does it indicate poshness or perhaps a blasé attitude?)

Some of the interpretations, or real-world “use” of the emoji, are pretty funny, like roughly a third of people thinking the Dashing Away emoji means farting.

Which emoji do you find most confusing?
Which emoji above do you find most confusing?

The ‘least-recognizable’ emoji

Next Preply looked at survey results for the emoji people have a hard time identifying at all. It listed five “least-recognizable” emoji, with the top one being an unsmiling smiley face with a dotted-line for a head. Interestingly, the enigmatic Woman Tipping Hand comes in fourth here.

People really don't know what these are supposed to mean.
People really don’t know what these are supposed to mean.

Most ‘rebelled-against’ emoji

Finally, PrePly listed the top five emoji that people use in ways that don’t align with their titles. Number one among these is the star in a circle, which is supposed to indicate Dizzy. But only 7% of respondents use it that way.

These are the top five emoji people use in ways that don't line up with the emoji titles.
These are the top five emoji people use in ways that don’t line up with the emoji titles.

Preply stated its methodology this way:

On March 14, 2023, we surveyed 1,001 Americans across the United States about the emojis that baffle them most. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 76 years old, and were 48% female, 50% male and 2% nonbinary.

We used the Gini Coefficient method to get an average of respondent answers per emoji. The emojis with the most evenly spread out answer set (or average closest to 0), were the most confusing. Footnote: The “Most Confusing Emojis” percentages represent the number of respondents who knew of the emoji being used in the selected context prior to taking our survey.

We first published this article on April 26, 2023, and again on July 17, 2023, for World Emoji Day. 


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