A smile emoji splitting open to reveal a skull emoji inside.
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Despite its grim look, the skull emoji actually means something surprisingly lighthearted on the internet. Here’s what all those skulls in the comments sections mean.

It Means Laughter

If you see someone using the skull emoji (๐Ÿ’€), you might think it references something deadly or macabre. After all, for hundreds of years, the human skull symbol has been a staple in everything to do with death, from depictions of the Grim Reaper to the poison warnings on bottles of toxic cleaning chemicals. However, in the last decade, the meaning of the skull symbol on the internet has radically transformed into something unexpected: intense laughter.

When you open the comments of a funny TikTok video or viral Tweet, you may be greeted by thousands of skull emoji from people, even when the content has nothing to do with death. All of these refer to bouts of intense laughter — a darkly funny version of acronyms like “LOL” that have been around on the internet for years. While this is a trend started by younger users, it’s spread across the internet.

The Evolution of Internet Laughter

There are many ways you can express that you’re laughing online. The web’s longest-running and most enduring acronym is still “LOL,” which means “laughing out loud.” Since its invention, there have been many laughing-related slang terms that have gone in and out of fashion, including ROFL, LMAO, and BWL. The internet constantly invents new ways to express how funny they find something.

However, despite “LOL” remaining an integral part of everyone’s online vocabulary, its meaning has gotten lost over time. This is because most people who type lol aren’t laughing. Instead, it’s turned into a gap-filler between words, like “um” and “uh” for direct messages. Because of that, people have turned to non-linguistic ways to express how funny they find something, such as GIFs, images, and emoji.

RELATED: What Is "LOL," and How Do You Use It?

Dead = Funny

A couple clutching their bellies in laughter.
Krakenimages.com/Shutterstock.com

The idea of “dying” as an idiomatic expression for laughter has been around for a long time, far preceding the internet. Many sitcoms featured phrases like “I’m dying of laughter” or “busting a lung.’ However, the specific term “I’m dead” rose to popularity on the internet, with an entry on Urban Dictionary appearing in September of 2013. It defines the phrase as “You died of laughter, aka something is that funny you laughed so hard you died.”

As with any other internet slang, the phrase became shorter and shorter. At first, people started saying just “dead” in response to something hilarious. However, even that was shortened, eventually turning into just a graphical image of a skull after the emoji was published with the first Emoji pack from Unicode in 2015.

Laughing Emoji and Strange Humor

When you scroll through the list of emoji available on your phone, you might wonder why people use the skull when there are so many that can express laughter? According to the Adobe Global Emoji Trend Report, the “crying-laughing” face is the most used emoji globally, alongside plenty of other icons that explicitly depict someone laughing or chuckling.

However, as with anything popular, people tend to go against the tide. So while it remains very popular, the crying-laughing face is also disliked by a big part of the internet because of overuse. That gave rise to alternative ways to show laughter, particularly the skull. It’s also part of an increasing amount of dark humor found on platforms like TikTok.

There are a few other grim emoji that people use to convey laughter, including the skull with crossbones (โ˜ ๏ธ), the coffin (โšฐ๏ธ), and even the headstone (๐Ÿชฆ). Many people also use multiple skulls in a single message, such as “๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€.”

How to Use the Skull Emoji

Do you want to use this strange expression of laughter in your messages? It’s pretty straightforward. All you need to do is use the emoji when you find something incredibly funny. Unlike “LOL,” which people no longer see as someone actually laughing, those who know about the skull will understand that you’re laughing IRL.

Here are a few examples of the emoji in action:

  • “That ending. ๐Ÿ’€”
  • “๐Ÿ’€”
  • “That was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.ย ๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€๐Ÿ’€”

Do you want to learn about some other unusual slang terms that have cropped up in the digital age? Check out our pieces on sus, OG, and cap, and you’ll be writing like an expert in no time!

RELATED: What Do "Cap" and "No Cap" Mean on the Internet?

Profile Photo for Vann Vicente Vann Vicente
Vann Vicente has been a technology writer for four years, with a focus on explainers geared towards average consumers. He also works as a digital marketer for a regional e-commerce website. He's invested in internet culture, social media, and how people interact with the web.
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