Gen Z is afraid of the thumbs up emoji

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Erik Deckers

I hesitated using emojis when they first came out. They seemed juvenile and childish, so I resisted for several years. Now I have a few favorites I’ll pop into text messages and social media updates occasionally.

These colorful symbols are developed by different mobile providers like Apple and Samsung with different faces, hand gestures and everyday objects. Every year, Apple announces that they’ve issued a new roster of emojis to distract you from the fact that their phones cost north of $1,000 and are now the size of a small child’s head.

There are currently 3,633 emojis, including different skin tones for faces and hands. They all have different meanings, and people — especially younger people — can have entire conversations with them. There are even three books written entirely with emojis.

Except some emojis don’t mean what you think they mean.

Some seemingly innocuous emojis have suggestive or explicit meanings.

The peach, kiss, and tongue are not ones you should use with someone who is not your significant other.

And now, according to some Generation Z kids, the thumbs up emoji means you’re hostile, confrontational, and passive-aggressive, and it makes them anxious.

Cue the eye-rolling emoji. That still means what you think it means.

According to a discussion on the “Adulting” subreddit, several people felt their older coworkers were being hostile by using the thumbs up until they realized the coworkers intended the symbol’s original meaning.

I don’t know who started this nonsense, but we Generation Xers grew up with the Fonzie Salute. We know exactly what it means. When the coolest guy on television gave you a thumbs up, it meant he liked and respected you. It meant you were cool, too.

If you have to ask who The Fonz was, you get a thumbs down. Nerd.

To Generation X and Baby Boomers — you know, the people who use it correctly — it means “I understand” or “I approve.” Or that you’re ready to jump a shark on water skis.

That is, you’re wearing the water skis, not the shark.

But not Generation Z. They think it means the complete opposite of its true meaning. They also think war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.

(See, that’s from a book. Or, as Gen Z calls it, “a movie.”)

One 24-year-old on the “Adulting” subreddit said, “it’s super rude if someone just sends you a thumbs-up.”

Another woman said, “My last workplace had a WhatsApp chat for our team to send info to each other on and most of the people on there just replied with a thumbs up. I don’t know why but it seemed a little bit hostile to me.”

Do you know what’s actually hostile? The middle finger. The driving digit. Flipping the bird. The Jersey salute. The finger bomb. The f-word finger. Digitus impudicus.

If I flipped you off in traffic, you would definitely say that’s hostile and rude. You wouldn’t smile and think it was cute. You’d flip me off in return, and we would just be barreling down the road, giving each other the finger, each hoping the other would drive into a truck.

How can you think that about the thumbs up when there’s a middle finger emoji right there? Who elevated a happy gesture to the same level as the one that tells you where to go?

Of course, the thumbs up gesture does not mean the same thing in every part of the world. It’s not always a happy, optimistic gesture like it is in the U.S.

In the Middle East, it means the middle finger. But in the United Kingdom, showing the peace sign but turning it around also means the middle finger. And in Brazil, making the OK sign accomplishes the very same thing.

But Gen Z is undeterred, and even a little mean about it. A recent survey of people between 16 and 29 said that people who use the offending emoji are “officially old and past it.”

Past it? Past it? Listen, you snot-nosed little brats, we created the It. We are the It. We are not past anything, we are still the standard that you whiners try to measure up to. For you to take one of our most sacred gestures and whine that it hurts your feelings is beyond insulting.

Your generation already breaks into a cold sweat when people put periods in their texts, complaining that it’s rude and abrupt. What are you going to whine about next? Does “hello” give you fits? Is “thank you” malicious? Do we seem crabby when we tell you to “have a nice day?”

Instead of ruining our thing, why don’t you all shove that thumbs-up emoji right where the sun don’t—ohhhh, I get it now!

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