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The Slightly Smiling Emoji Conveys the Complex Tragedy and Joy of Human Existence

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Dead eyes, half-smile. Inhale deeply. Let it out. It’s all going to be OK.

“🙂.” My editor messaged me after I pitched him some dumb, silly, exceedingly me blog. Gentle code for “let’s pass on this one.”

“🙂.” Politely softens any sort of blow.

“🙂.” A modest thank you to a compliment that suggests, “I’m doing my best.”

“🙂.” Reminds me of the look in my ex’s eyes when he dumped me last winter; a soft patronizing gaze emanating, “Please don’t hate me. I’m a nice guy. I promise.”


“🙂.” Nice.

“🙂.” The “slightly smiling face” according to Emojipedia. Every emoji has its opposite, and 🙂 is the perfect symbol to balance out 😁. While the meaning of 😁 varies depending on the device and platform you’re using—you could be grinning with joy or suffering a bout of physical or emotional constipation—🙂 remains constant. Things might not go the way you want them to go, 🙂 coos, but it’s all going to turn out alright.


While its upside down form 🙃 contains far more dismay, tacked onto the end of a sentence describing the innate injustice of the world, things you have no power to change. An insincere sputter of “Everything’s fine.”

“I use 🙂 all the time,” Gizmodo editor Mike Nuñez tells me. “Because I’m kind of old-fashioned.”


“🙂.” It evokes the old-timey :), doesn’t exude the intensity of 😀— “😀 is psychotic,” Jezebel staff writer Brendan O’Connor asserts—the cheeriness of 😊, the smugness of 😏, the enthusiasm of 😃. The most multi-purpose of all the smileys, 🙂 is above all, measured. It manages to convey an overarching sense of peace while still taking the terror of the world into consideration.

“🙂.” The words in the sentence preceding the emoji might not be what you want to hear, but that’s life, and it’s really not too bad when you think about it.


“🙂.” No admission of happiness but nevertheless, a slight grin. The calm smile of terror. A symbol that neither ignites or extinguishes any flame.