As clever as the explanation may be, the children’s game of tag is not short for touch and go. Something posh, or luxurious and stylish, isn’t so called because swankier cabins on ships traveling between Britain and India were once located port outward, starboard home. And no, shipping manure high in transit is not how we got that more vulgar term for excrement.
These etymological accounts are tempting, but they aren’t true. They are urban legends, kept alive by the human hunger for a satisfying story and the viral vim of social media. These forces are no stranger to emojis. They have also gripped 🙏 Folded Hands—or, as one stubborn myth insists, the "high five emoji."
Depicting two hands pressed together and fingers pointed up, 🙏 Folded Hands is variously used as a gesture of prayer (religious or secular), thanks, request, and greeting as well to express such sentiments as hope, praise, gratitude, reverence, and respect. It is only occasionally applied as a high five, often in reference to the "high five" myth.
We can find rumblings that 🙏 Folded Hands depicts a high five on Twitter in January 2012. These were early days for emojis for many people, and such interpretations of these fun but mystifying newfangled glyphs were—and remain—understandable.
In July 2013—July 22, to be precise—the myth that 🙏 Folded Hands is actually intended to represent a high five spread in earnest on Twitter. Popular news reports and memes fanned the flames into 2014–15, and they still burn today.
Some debunkers point out that the thumbs in 🙏 Folded Hands are together, whereas a high five should depict thumbs in opposite directions, given the orientation of those digits in a conventional high five. Others, like us here at Emojipedia, bust the myth by looking at the history of the emoji.
Many people first encountered emojis on Apple keyboards. At the time the high five rumor takes off, Apple’s design for 🙏 Folded Hands featured a golden burst of light emanating from the fingers, which some people apparently—and not unreasonably—thought illustrated the clapping contact of two people’s upraised palms meeting in greeting, celebration, or camaraderie.
Apple has supported 🙏 Folded Hands since its iPhone OS 2.2 in 2008, the artwork of its first emoji heavily influenced by SoftBank, as can be seen in the Japanese carrier’s version of 🙏 Folded Hands between 2002–06. It’s a different early iteration of 🙏 Folded Hands, however, that makes the emoji's original intent more obvious: au by KDDI’s 2003 design, which portrays a person with hands folded, head bowed, and eyes closed.
Early designs of 🙏 Folded Hands from Google, Microsoft, and Samsung also featured characters in such a pose. The gesture is commonly associated with Western, Christian prayer. Many Japanese people perform a similar action before a meal while saying itadakimasu, and many in Southeast Asian religions and cultures fold their hands as a respectful greeting or show of adoration, such as the Hindu namaste or Buddhist añjali mudra.
Interestingly, scholars have noted that folded hands as a Christian prayer gesture—said to originate as a display of submission, like a captive stretching out their hands to be bound—isn’t well documented in medieval art until after the 1200s. As evidenced in ancient texts from Egyptian scripts to the Old Testament, the gesture was preceded by an older, more universal gesture also represented in emojidom: 🙌 Raising Hands, another glyph some interpret as a high five along with ✋ Raised Hand. Another gesture of prayer, especially associated with Islam, found on emoji keyboards is 🤲 Palms Up Together, theorized to begin as a request for empty hands to be filled by divine beneficence.
By 2015, Apple dropped from 🙏 Folded Hands its stylized yellow lines, which ostensibly symbolized a kind of radiance of hope or gratitude. By 2018, major vendors brought their design in line with Apple’s, giving us with two, default-yellow, blue-sleeved hands with palms pressed together under the generic but descriptive Unicode name of Person With Folded Hands.
True to its form, 🙏 Folded Hands is widely used to represent prayer, whether in religious contexts or more secular ones.
The emoji also accompanies other cultural references to folded hand gestures, including the Japanese itadakimasu or Hindu namaste.
East meets West in 🙏 Folded Hands, which widely marks expressions of thanks and gratitude.
People also fold their hands together when making requests, whether asking for a simple favor or dramatically pleading for forgiveness. And so we find 🙏 Folded Hands in these contexts as well.
So often underlying thanks and prayer are sentiments of hope and praise, of reverence and respect, which 🙏 Folded Hands can express.
Finally, the emoji does see some occasional, genuine uses as a high five, but this application most often appears to be in reference to the popular debate over 🙏 Folded Hands as the "high five emoji."
It's just that we’re falling for the old “Too slow!” trick, as it were, when we credit claims that 🙏 Folded Hands is "actually" a high five—because that implies that’s what it can only mean or that we’re using it incorrectly if we aren’t employing it that way. Such stances limit the scope of emojis and our creativity with them. Even if their under-specification can lead to some confusion, it’s the versatility and broadness of emojis that make them useful, effective, and expressive.
We have options when we want to express various senses of prayer and thanks in emoji gestures. 🙏 Folded Hands often has a more earnest tone compared to the more exulting "Praise be!" of 🙌 Raising Hands or the more worshipful "I'm not worthy!" of 🙇 Person Bowing. We have options, too, for high fives. 🙏 Folded Hands, on occasion, yes, but also 🙌 Raising Hands, as we’ve seen, along with a fist bump or two. 🤜🤛
The 🙏 Folded Hands–high five urban legend, in the end, doesn't seem motivated by any malice or mischief. It’s meant to be fun—for people want there to be an emoji they can call High Five. And we can put it up there for that. 🙏