Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 12.28.04 PMHave you ever sent or received a ghost emoji? What does it mean? This is a perfect question for the Citizen Sociolinguist—because we can only answer it by asking what citizens-who-use-ghost-emojis say about it.

The question, “What does a ghost emoji mean?” occurred to me because, not to brag, but, recently I’ve found myself using the ghost emoji in a way that feels “fluent.”

Then, I unthinkingly used it with a distant acquaintance to indicate, “Thanks! I’m glad you liked the photo!”, and I started second-guessing my fluency. Suddenly I felt nervous that the seemingly innocuous winking ghost may have some offensive history of use (see, for example, the eggplant emoji).

So, wearing my Citizen Sociolinguistic curiosity cap, I hit the internet.

A quick google search for the definition yielded, somewhat unexpectedly, an article on the topic in GQ magazine entitled (to my relief), “The Ghost Emoji is Perfect.”

Fortunately, the ghost emoji works in almost any situation, according to the author, Maggie Lange:

Here are good occasions to use the ghost emoji: to show you’re listening; sheepishness; to elicit a faster response; to punctuate a rambling conversation; jumpy excitement; to show someone you’re thinking about them in a casual way; to say hey, boo; if you don’t know how to react, but you want to show a general copacetic ‘tude; to inquire if your friend Irish-exited a party; if you have no idea what someone’s talking about, but you know they don’t know either; to say you feel like a shell of yourself but it’s fine; to show pleasant accordance with plans; to check if anyone on the group chain is having noontime existential dread; Halloween hype; to agree to disagree.

Even though the ghost emoji doesn’t mean anything–or could mean everything–it seems to do a lot. So, a better question, and one better suited to Citizen Sociolinguistics may be “How do you use the Ghost Emoji?”.

I googled this question and immediately was directed to Reddit. In the “NoStupidQuestions” subReddit (other questions include, “how do blind people know where the braille signs are?”) we find an answer:

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 10.06.16 AMSound familiar? This response is a direct link back to the GQ article I previously mentioned.

Are there no dissenting opinions?  Even on Reddit?

There is one more comment in the Reddit thread.  I clicked on it nervously to find…

Screen Shot 2017-04-17 at 10.22.01 AM

Just the ghost emoji!  Now officially my favorite riddle inside a mystery wrapped in an enigma.


Do you use the ghost emoji?  How?

Why does it exist?

Can you think of equivalents of the ghost emoji in any (other) language?

Please share and comment below!


7 thoughts on “The Ghost Emoji: A Riddle Wrapped in a Mystery inside an Enigma

  1. I have been using it as a text greeting in lieu of “Boo!”
    I fully expect recipient friends to respond, “Eek!” … They don’t always. They tend to be over the age of 25 and well over the delight of peekaboo.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I use ghost emoji – 👻 exclusively in a positive sense (even when I was goth). For example, when I want to show a playful mood. Or when I’m getting ready for Halloween. It exists because there are many mysterious stories that can be illustrated with its help. And as a result, there are many related emojis, for example,


  3. I leave the ghost emoji either to say “boo” if I haven^t talked to someone in a while, or simply as something between the usual smiley and the hugging smiley. It is a sweet, easy going and goofy smiley that is almost offering a hug, but still less clingy than the hugging smiley. 😀 I didn`t think about the use before, until once I sent it to someone who then replied with justifications why he didn`t follow up. Only then did I realise the similarity to ghosting. Once a friend asked me “Why the ghost”, and he is a ghosting kind of guy, so I am not sure if he felt attacked by the emoji, but I actually just wanted to kind of hug him, without really doing it. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

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