What Do All The Hand Emojis Mean? Or, How To Know When To Use Prayer Hands vs. Applause

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It's pretty remarkable that I can still write — and even more remarkable that writing is actually my job — given how frequently I communicate exclusively in emoji. Honestly, if a picture is worth a thousand words, then an emoji is worth at least ten thousand. But with the sheer number of options to choose from... well, how are we supposed to know when to use them all? Take the huge variety of hands — what do all the hand emojis mean, anyway?

The world of emoji can be overwhelming, even to someone well-versed in the language. We've already talked about when it's appropriate to use the smiling cat as opposed to the crying or laughing cat, as well as what each heart emoji means. So now, let's talk about a particular subset of the emoji catalog that I find to be exceptionally useful: the hand emoji. They say everything that needs to be said, and it's kind of a subtle nod to sign language. But once again, delve too deeply into the world of hand emoji and you can find yourself in a real pickle. When is the thumbs up more appropriate than the "OK" hand? Are the prayer hands really prayer hands at all or can I use it as a "high five" emoji? It's a lot, I know, but I will take you all under my hand-emoji-laden wing and explain it all.

It's worth noting that there are actually something like 18 different hand emojis; as such, I'm actually exaggerating a little bit when I say that I'm going to explain it all. I am, however, going to explain what I considered to be the 10 most useful hand emoji, so come. Join me on my metaphorical magic carpet ride. I can show you the hand-emoji world. Let's get down to business. I'm mixing Disney metaphors now, I know. Let's just start.

1. Thumbs Up

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The Thumbs Up emoji, also known as the "yes" emoji, is used to express general contentment. Alternatively, it can be used sarcastically to mean something isn't actually good.

2. Thumbs Down

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Unlike its more positive counterpart, the Thumbs Down emoji is almost never used sarcastically. It's used to demonstrate dislike or disapproval, and often tends to be the emoji of choice by f*ckboys when you cancel plans (even for a legitimate reason).

3. OK

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This is probably my most frequently used emoji. It's like the Thumbs Up emoji, but more fun. It can mean "OK," "Works for me," "You look fly in that outfit," or less frequently, "This is literally how much I care" (notice the space between the two fingers).

4. Praying Hands

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This one is most commonly referred to as the prayer or praise hands emoji, and as such it is used in lieu if the "fingers crossed" emoji that inexplicably does not exist. It is also known as the "high five" emoji, which sort of makes sense if you want to be like that.

5. Peace Sign

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In another weird turn of naming events, Apple seems to want to call the what is clearly a peace sign emoji "Victory Hand." The peace sign emoji is my go-to emoji for saying goodbye or goodnight to people (I suppose it's akin to saying "peace" or "peace out"), but it can also be used to mean something like "just chilling" or "everything's chill and peaceful."

6. Flexed Bicep

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The Flexed Bicep emoji is used to indicate strength, power, or success. In many cases, it's used exactly the way you think it would be used: to tell someone you have just worked out or are in the middle of working out. It can also be used slightly less traditionally to mean "nailed it."

7. Clapping Hands

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Some people like to call this guy the "applause emoji," but I pretty much use it exclusively as a sarcastic golf clap. Anything that actually deserves congratulations should be met with a thumbs up or a face of some kind, so you really only want to use the clapping hands to indicate that someone's behavior is not deserving of real applause.

8. Pointing Up

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Apparently, this emoji was designed to either represent the number one or to indicate a question, but I've only ever seen it used in once context: to show someone how much you want to turn up that night.

9. Fist Bump

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This emoji's formal title is "Fisted emoji," but please let's never say that again. The Fist Bump emoji is used the way you think it should be used: to give someone props or imply that he/she has done well.

10. Raised Hand

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The raised hand is also pretty well known as the "plz stop" emoji. I pretty much only use it to tell people to stop, but I'm sure there are more patient people out there who use it to mean "I have a question" or "high five."

11. Vulcan Salute

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If you haven't seen Star Trek, this emoji is probably just a weird anomaly to you. But if you are Trekkie, you know this as the Spock emoji or the Vulcan Salute.

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