When it comes to emojis, there’s no time of year quite like Halloween. We fill our texts and tweets with the many tricks and treats emojis offer for the holiday, from jack-o’-lanterns 🎃 and candy 🍬 to bats 🦇 and spider webs 🕸️ to frightened faces 😱 and devilish grins 😈 to vampires 🧛 and clowns 🤡. Making many an appearance, of course, is the apparitional 👻, or Ghost emoji.
But because this 👻 Ghost is as goofy-looking as it is ghoulish, it’s beloved all year round. This emoji calls for an investigation—the not-so paranormal investigation of Emojiology.
Widely depicted as a white-sheeted ghost making a silly face, 👻 Ghost marks content related to the scary and supernatural, especially around Halloween. Thanks to its playful look, the emoji can also convey that someone or something is fun, goofy, wild, weird, or downright crazy. Specific applications include references to Snapchat, whose logo is a ghost, and the slang term ghosting, or abruptly ending a relationship or leaving a place without explanation.
👻 Ghost began haunting our keyboards as part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010 along with a few other Halloween staples, including 💀 Skull and 🎃 Jack-O-Lantern. For all its spectral connotations, though, we ain’t afraid of no 👻 Ghost. That’s because the emoji comes across as friendly and wily, far more Casper than Poltergeist.
The appearance of 👻 Ghost varies across platforms, but the main vendors, including Apple, Google, and Samsung, display a white, cartoon ghost with bulging eyes, tongue stuck out, and arms outstretched.
👻 Ghost's design conjures up a person dressed up in a classic, white-sheet ghost costume—a trope which, apparently, dates back to the 19th century, when ghosts were depicted in burial shrouds to set them apart from living characters in performances—delivering a waggish Boo! Samsung made this suggestion unmistakable in its original, and adorable design, which showed a yellow smiley peeking timidly from under some linen.
The same was true for Google by Android 8.0 in 2017, which transformed a more blob-like baddy into a winking wraith. Microsoft’s emoji now has a very Ghostbusters feel, though it still more closely resembles Apple’s compared to its blue predecessor. The open-source emojidex is no major player in the emoji-verse, but we should give a special nod to its design, a cobalt-blue, fiery-faced demon of a ghost.
Noting the great differences the emoji’s personality across platforms, artist @RTgrl_ hilariously tiered 👻 Ghost’s designs.
👻 Ghost has been a popular player ever since its debut. In March 2014, an Atlantic article ranked 👻 Ghost as the second best emoji of them all, because it’s both “silly and macabre.” In July 2015, a Bustle rundown of monster emojis described 👻 Ghost as “derpy” and “spoopy,” the latter a typo that spread as a slang term for something that is spooky but silly. Later that October, a GQ piece hailed 👻 Ghost as “a perfect aspect of modern communication” for the many uses of the “silly cartoon.”
Indeed, the MO of 👻 Ghost, as so many agree, isn’t to haunt but to humor.
One prominent user of 👻 Ghost is Cher, the Goddess of Pop—and of emoji, too, if her social media is any measure. On Twitter, Cher has made 👻 Ghost into her signature emoji, an idiosyncratic addition or response to just about any and all content. So much so that in 2014 BuzzFeed broke down “15 Super Useful Ways We Can Use The Ghost Emoji Like Cher,” ranging from cooing over babies to raving over outfits, as if she’s issuing a wavy-armed Whoa! Cher’s many fans have also adopted 👻 Ghost when tweeting at or about her.
The mischievous charm of 👻 Ghost isn’t lost on the company whose design helped popularize it: Apple. As part of its 2018 release of iOS 12, Apple brought 👻 Ghost into its select, just-shy-of-two-dozen fold of Animoji, or animated emoji that respond to facial expressions. Now, Apple users can say Boo! to their boo.
👻 Ghost is very popular in content concerning Halloween, from trick-or-treating and haunted houses to costume parties and scary movies.
The ghoul is also a go-to for all things eerie, creepy, and supernatural.
Beyonds fears and frights, 👻 Ghost, thanks to its appearance, frequently indicates something is wild and crazy or someone is acting goofy and silly.
And since it looks like its hollering, 👻 Ghost is also commonly employed in reactions, as if someone is screaming in excitement or is so besides themselves that they've given up the ghost, so to speak.
👻 Ghost emoji lends itself to other metahporical ghosts, especially the slang ghosting, i.e., suddenly ending a relationship without explanation and any further communication.
Finally, as the logo of Snapchat features a ghost (see @Snapchat's avatar below), 👻 Ghost is often used a shorthand for a message or account on the app.
As the examples show, we certainly welcome 👻 Ghost in Halloween and horror contexts, but on its own the emoji isn’t scary.
To its strength, it’s silly, adding an expressive wisp of whimsy, bewilderment, or wackiness to our digital communication. Do be mindful that its appearance does vary considerably across platforms, but regardless of how it exactly displays, 👻 Ghost never loses its fun-loving spirit, shall we say. 👻