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Is the thumbs-up emoji passive-aggressive?
From the red heart to the laugh-cry face, here’s a glossary of canceled emoji.
The thumbs-up emoji is passive-aggressive, per Gen Z.
The thumbs-up emoji is passive-aggressive, per Gen Z. [ Shutterstock ]
Published Oct. 28|Updated Oct. 28

The surest way to know a topic has jumped the shark is when a person who knows the origins of the phrase “jumped the shark” covers it.*

To that end, news outlets are reporting that Gen Z finds the thumbs-up emoji passive-aggressive and confrontational, which means Gen Z has found the thumbs-up emoji passive-aggressive and confrontational for a long time. They have moved on to hating something else the rest of us will learn about in 18 months via “Today,” in between the Smuckers birthday jar and a segment on easy game day appetizers.

The following emojis are apparently also out: the red heart, the poo (aww, lil’ friend), the face with streaming tears, the laugh-cry and more. Of course, Gen Z is not a committee that votes using Robert’s Rules of Order. Rather, the opinions of an entire generation emerge like Cthulhu when someone makes a Reddit post and us shark jumpers* run with it. It’s all overblown.

Still, the thumb is a fun conversation starter! Keep it on hand for the holidays when you’d like to talk about anything besides the conspiracy theories of school board candidates. I’ve found this ice breaker yields passionate takes. One friend says he does find the thumbs-up cold and dismissive, but only when others use it and not him. Somehow, this makes perfect sense.

Communicating via emoji is most fraught in a workplace. In my office, we use software called “Slack,” which is like... hmm... well, a purple graveyard for tone and nuance. It comes with a plethora of emojis, and this is where relations get tricky. Say you post, “Bagels by the copier!” and get a thumbs-up. Bomb. Dreadful. Humiliating. How could you choose bagels when doughnuts exist in the world? Now, if that same message gets 16 dancing party parrots? It’s going to be a bang-up day.

Confused? What are we to do when “universal” symbols mean something different even to the people in our own homes? How do we keep up?? Once upon a time it was not considered icy to send a message ending with a period. Now? If there’s not at least six of these babies (!!!) you are definitely mad at me.

Let’s go deeper and translate canceled emojis as of 2022.

Thumbs up: “I don’t care where we eat. You pick. That place? That’s a bread-only restaurant and I’m off gluten, but I don’t mind getting sick. I said it’s up to you. Really? I got a hair in my salad there. No, it’s cool. I said you could pick. I’m vegan, but I can find something at Meat Emporium. I think I’ll just stay in. I’m tired.”

Grimacing face: “I can’t believe you used the thumbs-up.”

Red heart: “I love you. Not in a casual way. I am passionately, desperately in love with you, and I’m sorry if it’s awkward to hear while you were just texting an article about the interest on long-term mortgage rates topping 7 percent. The very thought of you turns my heart to doves and my soul to violins. Allow me to recite this poem by Robert Burns: “O my luve is like a red, red rose...”

Red lips: “This is over.”

Check mark: “Never speak to me again.”

Laugh-cry face: “I don’t know who I am or what I stand for. My cells are degenerating. I recently purchased orthotic inserts. My jeans are wrong, my hair is wrong, my socks are wrong. I will probably say something inappropriate and have to launch an apology tour, take down my social media accounts and disappear. Upon my return, everyone will be on new platforms, so I will try knitting while I await death. Am I laughing? Crying? Shaking? Sweating? Cold? Alone? All of the above.”

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* On a 1977 episode of “Happy Days,” the character Fonzie jumped over a shark while water skiing, signaling that the show was out of new ideas. You’re welcome.

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