Emoji Analysis: Upside-Down Smiley


One day as I was preparing to send a friend (or possibly the ultimate friend: my mom) a message, something unexpected showed up under my finger. What is that curious creature? Why it’s an upside-down smiley face! Somehow this emoji had gone unnoticed between the more eye-catching new emojis, like the tongue-out cash face or the huggy hands blushing face. Once I saw this emoji, he quickly joined beer cheers and winky ghost face in my “frequently used” dash.

There’s something enigmatic about upside-down smiley face. His misplaced smile reminds me of the sheen of sweat you get when you’re happy from say, too many beer cheers, but you realize that it’s not going to feel good tomorrow. It’s like a smile ghosting out of a room, slowly rolling away and whispering, “byeeeee.”

I was surprised when I found this article on The Verge, saying that “We are wasting the upside-down face emoji on sarcasm.” Somehow I had missed that we as a species have finally found the written equivalent of saying something and meaning the opposite. I had to stop and get a bit excited about this. How many friendships and relationships have ended because people did not properly signify sarcasm over instant message? Thousands? This little guy could save families.

The article makes a good point, that this isn’t our first attempt to “hang a lantern” on sarcasm. After all, how many blogs have gone back to posts and added THIS IS SARCASM under the headline to appease angry commenters? Such a signifier often feels misapplied (if it was actually funny, would we need such a disclaimer?). But other times it’s truly difficult to figure out whether or not a post about batty things Ann Coulter said is real or if the site we stumbled upon was a university’s attempt to create the next Onion.

When we get to private conversations between two people who don’t claim to be masters of the written word, addressing sarcasm gets even trickier. Does adding vowels to a word suggest meaning the opposite? (Nooooooooo.) What about adding a smiley face after saying something rude? Is that sarcasm, or just passive aggression?

An emoji that signifies sarcasm can fix a lot of things, but it can’t fix one of them main problems with sarcasm: people aren’t always very good at it. What seems like a dry joke to a speaker can come off as rude sincerity to a listener. How many times have you not realized someone was “just messing with you” and “totally jk?” because they thought their off-color comment was a sarcastic joke? Can this adorable, noseless face fix this larger problem? Nooooooo? 😉

But for the most part, it makes sense to use this emoji to denote sarcasm. After all, the existential uncertainty of glee and the fear of committing to one’s words are the beloved territory of the sarcastic person.

That said, I agree with the Verge’s premise that we shouldn’t limit this wonderful inversion of the human face to just sarcasm. An upside-down face can mean so much in our complex world of cat gifs and comic sans doges. Let’s give it some time to stretch out. For now, I say, upside-down smiley face, you are my favorite emoji since winky sad face ;(