Can Emoji Have Synonyms?

Emoji, the charming little pictograms that walked out of our dreams and onto our phones, have been around since 1999. Today, two decades after the first set of 176 emoji were released, there are over 3,000 emoji. That’s a lot of pictograms.

According to the Unicode Consortium, which is the official body that approves emoji internationally, the ideal emoji should meet three criteria:

  1. It will be used a lot.
  2. It should be different from other emoji.
  3. It should have a lot of different meanings.

It’s great to have ideals. But with over 3,000 emoji that should each mean lots of different things, there is bound to be some overlap.

Just like the different words in English that have similar meanings, or synonyms, different emoji can also be synonyms. Sometimes, these different emoji can look confusingly similar. But that’s why we are discussing how there’s more to these closely-related emoji than meets the eye. Plus we have a few ideas about how to mix up your emoji game in some fun and surprising ways.

love, love, love

There are countless heart emoji that all more or less express different kinds of love. (You can read about some of them here.) Without going over all of them again, we are going to look at a couple of the heart emoji that are generally used for expressions of love: the sparkling heart emoji 💖 , the growing heart emoji 💗, and the beating heart emoji 💓.

You might be wondering, “I thought emoji were supposed to be different from one another, but these all kind of look the same and mean the same thing.” Well, sort of—but not quite. It’s possible they are so closely related because these different heart symbols were already being used in Japan. They were incorporated into Unicode 6.0 in 2010 to match what was already in use and would perhaps not make it through the approval process today.

However, these emoji all do have slightly different meanings. For example, the sparkling heart emoji is considered to have a happy or playful tone. The growing heart emoji is a slightly more sincere expression of love and affection. The beating heart emoji has more intensity in its expression of love than its static heart counterparts. So, while they all do mean love and are hearts, these emoji have their own distinct qualities.


Everyone gets sleepy sometimes. That might be why there are multiple emoji to get that point across: the sleepy face emoji 😪, the sleeping face emoji 😴, and the sleeping symbol emoji 💤.

It might seem like splitting hairs to have a sleepy face emoji and a sleeping face emoji. Why do we need both? Well, they come from two different traditions of visual syntax.

In Eastern cultures, particularly in Japanese anime and manga, the blue snot bubble coming from the nose of the sleepy face emoji means someone is tired or sleeping. Also, yes, it’s a blue snot bubble from snoring. Now you know.

In Western cultures, particularly in American cartoons, zzz has more often been used to indicate snoring, and therefore sleep. That’s how we get the sleeping face emoji.

The sleeping symbol emoji, which is just the zzzs symbolizing snoring, predates both the sleeping face and sleepy face emoji. It’s a good way to show you’re tired or bored without putting a face to it.


Getting sick is the worst. And, to make matters worse, there’s so many different kinds of ways to get sick. That’s probably why there are so many different sick emoji, one for every major symptom you might experience when you’re sick.

If you’re feeling nauseous (literally or figuratively), there’s the nauseated face emoji 🤢 and the face with open mouth vomiting emoji 🤮. If you’ve had a knock on the head or other physical injury, you might want to reach for the face with head-bandage emoji 🤕. And, if you’re running a fever or have a cold, there’s the face with thermometer emoji 🤒.

 We hope you don’t get sick. But if you do, you can convey just what kind of sick you are with all of these different emoji.


Heartbreak is the worst. However, there is one small silver lining: there’s more than one way to share your heartbreak in emoji form. Hooray?

Of course, there’s the broken heart emoji 💔 that you’re probably already familiar with. But what if we told you there was another emoji you could use to express the same emotion?

Enter the wilted flower emoji 🥀. This emoji shows a flower, usually a rose, that has wilted and is dying. (Sad.) Just like the broken heart emoji, it can be used to express heartbreak—although sometimes in a slightly ironic way.


Maybe you’re superstitious, maybe you’re not. But either way, you’re definitely familiar with the notion of crossing your fingers for luck. This gesture is said to date back to the early days of the Catholic Church as an invocation of God’s protection. Either way, this centuries-old gesture has made its way into modern times via the hand with index and middle fingers crossed (or crossed fingers) emoji 🤞.

However, this emoji isn’t the only one that can symbolize luck. There’s another lucky emoji that is too often overlooked: the four leaf clover emoji 🍀. The four leaf clover refers to an old Celtic tradition, where people believed the clovers could ward off bad luck. So, next time you want a slightly different way to wish someone luck, send them a four leaf clover emoji instead of a crossed fingers emoji.


In his first inaugural address, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” With all due respect to President Roosevelt, we’re not sure how true that is. After all, if that were the only thing to be afraid of, why would we have two different emoji that mean fear?

In 2010, Unicode 6.0 added two frightened figures. The fearful face emoji 😨 and the face screaming in fear emoji 😱. The face screaming in fear emoji is generally considered the more frightened of the two. You may notice that both emoji have a blue gradient at the top. This is an effect commonly used in Japanese anime and manga to indicate a cold sweat, like you might have when you’re afraid.

The face screaming in fear emoji is particularly interesting. In addition to being even more scared than the fearful face emoji, it has the added distinction of looking like the main figure in the painting The Scream by Edvard Munch. Oh, and there’s a cat version, too 🙀.

laughing while crying

Speaking of cat versions, there are a number of cat-face versions of many different facial expression emoji. (“Why are there cat-faced emoji and not dog-faced emoji?” dog lovers of the world might well wonder. We wonder, too.)

We aren’t going to cover all of them here, but we are going to look at a representative sample: the laughing while crying emojis.

See, there’s the typical face with tears of joy 😂 and its constant companion the rolling on the floor laughing emoji 🤣. These two emoji depict that feeling of laughing so hard you cry. The rolling on the floor laughing emoji in particular suggests a particularly intense bout of laughter.

But, as if that weren’t enough for you, there’s also a cat face with tears of joy 😹 emoji. If you’re a cat lover, or just want to try out something else to express that you’re laughing while crying, why not give the cat face with tears of joy emoji a try?


Whether you are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual, queer, intersex, or an ally, there are a surprising number of emoji that are synonymous with LGBTQIA.

Since 2015, there have been same-gender people holding hands emoji. For example, the two men holding hands emoji 👬 or the two women holding hands emoji 👭. There are also same-gender family emoji, like the inelegantly named family: woman, woman, girl emoji 👩‍👩‍👧. These are all used to represent LGBTQIA relationships.

However, beyond the representation of people, there is also the rainbow flag emoji 🏳️‍🌈. The rainbow flag has been a sign of pride since the 1970s.

If you’re looking for something a wee bit more fabulous though, there’s always the unicorn face (or unicorn) emoji 🦄. Often depicted with a rainbow horn, this classic symbol for LGBTQIA is too much fun to leave off this list.


If you’re skeptical about this next set of emoji, we don’t blame you. They’re skeptical, too. In fact, there are three different emoji to express skepticism: the thinking face emoji 🤔, the face with one eyebrow raised emoji 🤨, and the face with monocle emoji 🧐.

Of these three options, the thinking face emoji is the most commonly used—but that’s just because it got a head start. It was added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015. Its competitors, face with one eyebrow raised emoji and face with monocle emoji, weren’t added until 2017.

While all of these emoji express skepticism, they aren’t entirely identical. The thinking face emoji is often used to mean thinking more generally. The face with raised eyebrow emoji is somewhat more suspicious than its peers. And the face with monocle emoji has at once a slightly silly, ironic tone while also sometimes conveying a hint of smugness.

Next time you don’t believe a thing someone is saying to you, try out one of these lesser-known emoji instead of the classic thinking face emoji.

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