New York's cover story this week proclaims, "Smile, You're Speaking Emoji." But are you? Do you understand the difference between the tongue-out emoji and the winking tongue-out emoji? Today's children communicate almost exclusively in these little smileys, and soon the weak emoji-illiterates in our society will be left behind.

As Adam Sternbergh writes in New York, the "elasticity of meaning is a large part of the appeal and, perhaps, the genius of emoji. ... These seemingly infantile cartoons are instantly recognizable, which makes them understandable even across linguistic barriers. Yet the implications of emoji—their secret meanings—are constantly in flux."

Good news: We know the secret meanings of emoji. Before you find that you're unable to express your feelings to anyone, familiarize yourself with the true meanings of the 12 most confusing emoji faces.

The Grimace

Emojipedia classifies this one as a "grinning face with smiling eyes," but it's a grimace. There are shades of anxiety in there as well, as in I get my LSAT scores in 2 days :grimace emoji:

The Whistle

While this is technically a "kissing face," it is never used that way. The whistle emoji is appropriate to use when someone asks you if you ate the last of the Skittles, and you have no good answer because you did. Not me :whistle emoji:

Flirty Blush vs. Pillsbury Dough Boy

Two blushing emojis, two different meanings. First is the flirty blush emoji, which is appropriate to use when you are flirting. (?? I've heard.)

Next is the creepier cousin of the flirty blush, the Pillsbury dough boy emoji. It tickles! :Pillsbury dough boy emoji: Don't use this.

The Shrug

This is the closest emoji to ¯\_(ツ)_/¯, but it's imbued with slightly more sadness. It's Jim Halpert looking at the camera. Your friend: Did you hear The Newsroom got a third season? You: :shrug emoji:


This signifies an inability to relate to the subject at hand.

The Overexertion

Technically, this emoji is classified as "triumph," which couldn't be more wrong. You could reasonably interpret it to mean "mad" or "steaming mad," but its true meaning is "I'm struggling on a treadmill rn."

Panting vs. Silly Wink vs. Poison Control

The three tongue-out emojis are easy to get confused. First is the simple tongue-out face, which signifies panting. It comes off as creepy in most situations and should be avoided.

Next is the silly wink emoji, which means "hey I just made a slightly off-color joke, don't be mad" or "I'm on poppers!"

Last is the poison control emoji, which signifies extreme distaste with the subject at hand. Your friend: Fucking DEREK booty called me last night. You: :poison control emoji:

The Sweaty Smile

This is not Singin' In the Rain. This is the nervous, sweaty smile—the *tugs collar* emoji. Off to dinner with my girlfriend's parents! :sweaty smile emoji:

The Man Baby

The official classification of this emoji is "tired face," but it actually signifies someone throwing a tantrum.

Get it now? If you're still confused, don't worry, you'll probably die soon.

Art by Sam Woolley