Etiquette guide to Apple's new emojis: Don't hug the middle finger!

Apple put more than 150 new emojis in its latest iOS update, but just when is it appropriate to send someone an image of a block of cheese or a levitating man? CNET's Danny Gallagher plays Miss Manners.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
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Not sure which emoji you should use in a certain situation? Rest easy. We're here for you. Emojipedia.org, Danny Gallagher/CNET

If you've ever felt the need to flip the bird at a levitating man, you're in luck. The latest emoji avalanche from Apple, released Wednesday as part of the new iOS 9.1 update, includes a middle finger and a floating guy in a suit along with more familiar images like a hot dog, a taco and a bottle of champagne.

Emojis are like the DNA those "Jurassic Park" scientists used to clone dinosaurs. Just because you can use something doesn't mean you should. So to help you select the most befitting confusing cluster of images for your specific needs, here are suggestions for the most appropriate times to email, text or tweet some of Apple's new emojis. Call it an "e-tiquette" guide, if you will.

Nerd face

While the term "nerd" may no longer be the insult it was long intended to be, that doesn't mean it's OK to send this emoji to just anyone. Apple's nerd face emoji has comically large black-framed glasses on a yellow head with a huge set of buck teeth. So if someone has astigmatism or an uncomfortable overbite, you may be insulting them for more than just their love of science and comic books.


If you know a person well enough to be playful with the term (a spouse calling their beloved a "nerd" for droning on too long with "Battlestar Galactica" trivia, for example), it's fine to use. Given how the emoji looks, it's also good if you want to compliment a particularly smart beaver for finally admitting its need for vision correction.


Hugs have always been hard to portray in emoji form. Sure you can show a picture of two people holding each other and most people will think it's a hug, but some dimmer lightbulbs are likely to think you need them to literally pick them up or hold them so they can't get away.


If you send Apple's new "hugging face" emoji, you might not be sending the hug someone needs to get through difficult times. Apple's hug emoji follows the trend of a round, smiling face with two open hands attached near its chin. Some might think you're sending an enthusiastic set of "jazz hands," which could be an awkward way to respond when someone just told you their dog died or they got fired.

Don't think that's awkward? Trying waving your hands in front of your body like you're a backup dancer in "Cabaret" the next time a friend says he got dumped or had a bad day and see how he reacts. He might think you're mocking him and try to wrap a field hockey stick around your head. Speaking of...

Field hockey

As an avid hockey fan, I was excited to see that Apple had a hockey emoji so I could tell my friends, via digital symbol, that I'm watching the Dallas Stars take the ice. The new symbol of a field hockey stick and ball seems to indicate Apple is reaching deep into the sports barrel to make sure all pastimes are covered. That means we're bound to get emojis for caber tossing, cow chip throwing and ferret legging.


Field hockey is basically ice hockey for people who can't skate. So the field hockey stick and ball emoji is perfect for inviting your friends to watch a field hockey event because you're having too much fun with your day and want to feel a little more bored. However, thanks to the whimsical shape of the stick, you can also use it to make fun of field hockey since a curved stick that looks like something you'd use to pull hot taffy is hilarious when meant to be sporting equipment.


A simple one. There are really only three times you should use this fire symbol: if you're inviting someone to a marshmallow or weenie roast; if your hair is on fire and you can't talk right away; or if you're about to spontaneously combust.

Levitating man

Apparently, there are people who can levitate, and if you're one of those people, you should definitely use this emoji of a man in a business suit levitating to tell someone you can't talk because you're busy being suspended in midair. It's like driving. You shouldn't be on your phone while you're doing it.

There are certain emotional connotations that also come with this emoji -- like how people say they are "floating" when they're in an advanced emotional state or how light they feel when a burden has been lifted from their shoulders. However, the man in the icon is only a few inches off the ground. So it's best not to use it to convey messages that would make you float high enough to touch the atmosphere. Save it for some of life's smaller joys, like discovering your lunch is still in the office fridge where you left it.

Middle finger

So many people throw around the middle finger in real life that it makes sense for Apple to finally bring one to its mobile devices. It does, however, take away some of the effort required to give someone an analog middle finger. You used to have to take a picture of your extended finger, crop it, adjust the aperture and lighting, find just the right filter that highlights your manicure and hit send.

So if you're going to send someone Apple's symbol of a reversed hand with a middle finger extended, make sure that person truly deserves it. Treat this emoji like a glass-covered emergency fire alarm for the biggest jerks in your life. Your best bet is to only use it for in-laws who owe you money, or for people who only text or email in emojis.