In today’s world, unicorns are everywhere! We see them in the shops, in movies, on posters, and at costume parties. We read about them in books (check out some unicorn hands-on books for toddlers) and adverts. We hear phrases like “unicorn startup” being tossed around in the business world however they also have sexual meaning for some communities.The last place you’d expect to hear about magical creatures often associated with children.
So, what are unicorns?
That’s something most of us probably feel we can answer pretty easily. White horses with horns – or sometimes rainbow horses. A few unicorns have wings, too, and they are all beautiful, fast, magical beings. That, at least, covers the actual mythical animal, and we’re going to go back to that in some detail toward the end of the article. But unicorns are a lot of other things too.
Unicorns are associated with many different aspects of life these days, and what they mean depends enormously on the context in which they are being referenced and who is talking about them: Startups, magic, mythical stories, sexuality, rainbows.
We’ve gathered up a few of the different areas of life in which you might encounter “unicorns,” and taken some time to unpick what they symbolize in each one. Feel free to use links below to quickly navigate around the different sections within this article.
- UNICORN STARTUPS
- DESIRABLE & ELUSIVE GOALS
- SLANG MEANINGS OF UNICORNS
- ONE-HORNED MYTHICAL ANIMAL
Unicorn Startups Which Everyone’s Talking About
It took me a while to wrap my head around “unicorn startups”. I’ve never associated unicorns with big business, and the idea of a stereotypical “man in a suit” referencing mythical equines to explain his new venture seemed a really strange one to me. Having spent some time understanding it, however, I’ve come to love this phrase, partly because it has an immensely clever double-meaning which makes it applicable in so many different scenarios. I love a bit of wordplay!
So, what is a Unicorn Startup?
According to InAcademy, the term Unicorn Startup was coined in 2013, by a woman called Aileen Lee, who identified 39 startups which were each valued at more than $1 billion. The idea behind the name is pretty simple: these businesses are as rare and valuable as finding actual unicorns!
It’s no wonder the name stuck, because it manages to express that in just one word, which is pretty impressive in my opinion. Even today, when such startups are becoming more common, we still refer a startup valued at over $1 billion as a “unicorn startup.”
You’re almost certainly familiar with some of the famous unicorn startups, like Uber, Spotify, and Airbnb. Most unicorn startups disrupt the market with major innovation or tap into a new market with a different idea or product. The space may quickly become competitive, but the startup in question tends to have a first-mover advantage, breaking new ground with their idea. Perhaps this is another reason they’re like unicorns: they forge new paths with speed and confidence, and they are totally independent of others.
Of course, the term “unicorn startup” takes on another meaning almost as soon as you say it, and this is what I particularly like about it: unicorns are, of course, mythical creatures. That means that using them to describe your business suggests your business might also be a little mythical, a little overblown or hyped up. Some people think that unicorn startups are about as likely to exist as their name suggests. This is definitely not the meaning most businessmen are going for when they use the term, but it’s a possible interpretation to bear in mind when it comes to talking about unicorn startups!
Desirable And Yet Elusive Goals – That Pretty Much Sums These Equines Up!
Linking in with the above interpretations, unicorns are often used to represent something desirable but highly elusive.
This is not surprising, given how flighty mythical unicorns were considered to be in all lore and legends – and how precious. Unicorns are bringers of positivity and luck, so it’s no surprise that people longed to see them, but they are also traditionally shy and solitary creatures, only presenting themselves to those pure of soul.
Unicorns may be seen as elusive because they were once thought of as real creatures, and narwhal horns were “proof” that they existed, at least for many Europeans. They came from a far-off place where few would ever be able to visit, so the chances of seeing an actual unicorn were non-existent even for people who thought they were real creatures. This, coupled with the magical properties which their horns were said to bring – cure from poison, prolonger of life, healer of ailments – makes it pretty clear why unicorns have come to represent something desirable but elusive.Read more about the powers unicorns are said to have.
Many people long to achieve things that are beyond their reach, and viewing these goals as unicorns can sometimes make them less abstract and more magical. It can be a great way to help us better understand our limits, but also to make more concrete that which we want, and to understand why we want it.
Sometimes, it might help us to realize when we are chasing ghosts and ideas rather than anything practical. At other times, it may make us all the more determined to achieve that which eludes us. Either way, unicorns are definitely representative of goals which flee before us, glittering with promise but always just a few steps ahead. Everyone knows unicorns are the fastest of all creatures; you’ve no hope of outrunning that goal, but perhaps you can find a way to approach it that will let you achieve what you want to achieve.
Unicorn Slang -The Slang Meanings Of “Unicorns”
Interestingly, unicorns have made a major mark on the world of slang too, and have a range of different meanings here, depending on the context. The meanings tend to be quite sexual, or at least are used to describe facets of sexuality – which might surprise you given that unicorns are usually associated with purity and innocence!
The most common slang meaning for unicorn seems to be a person who will have group sex with an established couple. This is often a bisexual female, but can be a male too, and the term is so common that the unicorn emote is frequently used on dating sites to denote this specific thing. It’s often considered a little derogatory, as mentioned by UnicornsRule, but it doesn’t have to be.
Why “unicorn” is particularly favored isn’t clear – unless it’s because those willing to join an established couple for sex are quite rare, and may prove hard to find. You can read more about this slang meaning in our article Unicorn Sexuality: Polyamory & Relationship Meaning.
In the dating world, “unicorn” can also mean a perfect woman who is impossible to “catch.” This is a logical step considering the associations unicorns already have, and the beauty which they are generally associated with. Less commonly, the term can also be applied to the perfect man, but in today’s world, unicorns do seem to be more commonly associated with females.
Unicorn sexuality meaning has even topped with the dating app called The Unicorn – mainly for finding those “unicorns” as ready to be the 3rd partner for the couples.
Unicorn as One-Horned Mythical Animal
If you’ve ever tried Googling “Unicorn Meaning,” you’ve probably come up with a whole range of different answers. The unicorn definition and meaning which most of us are familiar with is the one-horned mythical animal we all know and love from legends stretching back throughout history. We have covered so many elements of these creatures across our site, but we’re going to look at a few here to give an overall picture of what unicorns mean.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a unicorn is an imaginary creature, horse-like, with a single horn protruding from its forehead. The dictionary also mentions it’s white, though there are lots of different colored unicorns in the world, and different meanings for each one. As an example of this, check out our other article, Black Unicorn: Mythology, Meaning In Dreams, Literature & Games.
So unicorns are always horse-like, right? Maybe not quite, though that is certainly how they are usually depicted today. In actual fact, the subheading of this section is the most accurate description of the unicorn – it is one-horned and mythical. That’s why there has been some confusion about what unicorns look like: check out our articles What Do Unicorns Look Like? and Are Rhinos Just Fat Unicorns? for a bit more information on these things! If you go back far enough through history, you’ll find unicorns in a whole variety of shapes and sizes, and in general, it’s the single horn which is of significance when determining whether something is a unicorn or not.
This can be seen even today: we have invented caticorns like this cute little thing, or the unilambs and uniwolves as on bloodyskiesoffate. Anything we can stick a horn on, we will call a unicorn (or a variation of “unicorn”) – whether it’s equine-shaped or not! In some ways, this isn’t really surprising, since the word literally means “one-horned,” and doesn’t contain any reference to the horse part! Being a unicorn, then, means having a beautiful, magical single horn on the forehead of the creature.
Unicorns Mean Happiness
One almost universally accepted fact is that unicorns do represent positivity – as you’ll have found if you’ve spent any amount of time looking into this subject! They are frequently associated with good luck and longevity, and they generally mean something pleasant is going to happen to you soon. Gifting a unicorn to somebody might mean that you wish to bring them deep joy for a special occasion, so unicorn-related gifts can be wonderful for pretty much any situation – weddings, birthdays, Christmases.
In our article What Do Unicorns Represent? we explored some of the positive connotations which unicorns have. Unicorns were definitely thought to grant good fortune to anyone who saw them or managed to touch them, but they are also bringers of joy, or signs that something joyful was going to happen soon. No wonder so many people would love to catch a glimpse of a unicorn!
The movie The Last Unicorn certainly picked up on this theme. In it, unicorns represent immense joy, to the point that one of the humans cries upon seeing the unicorn, and claims to have waited all her life to see one. The film’s antagonist is a king who has never known happiness, save when he sees unicorns; he responds by driving the unicorns into the waves, where he can keep them safe and watch them forever. They are seen as the ultimate anti-depressant!
Throughout history, sightings of unicorns have been associated with joy, as their beauty and purity is supposed to be beyond human comprehension. Depictions of unicorns, especially in modern times, generally show them in peaceful settings, surrounded by love and affection from others, or guarding something precious. They are also frequently depicted in children’s programs and media, almost always as brightly colored representations of positivity and kindness.
Unicorns Bring Good Fortune
Our article Do Unicorns Bring Good Luck? proved a particularly interesting piece to write, and we were fascinated by some of the answers! This is one of the first things many people think of when they think of unicorns, and I’m certainly in that category.
Unicorns do tend to mean that something good may be coming, and the Chinese unicorn, the Qilin, was thought to appear as a herald of a particular important leader’s birth or death. However, in Western mythology, the unicorn doesn’t have quite such a strong association with luck as you might think! They are more closely linked with purity and healing than a bringer of good things, but they do sometimes signify their approach, and possessing unicorn horns was believed to bring good fortune in some myths and legends.
Personally, I feel if you spot a unicorn, you’re doing pretty well in life, and it does seem that unicorns are getting more of a “lucky” association as time goes on. It’s not quite clear why this is, but perhaps because we are just starting to associate unicorns with all things good. I’m certainly not complaining, but if you’re looking for a more traditional meaning of unicorn, luck may not be it. In today’s world, however, it certainly is.
Unicorns have even shown up in the “Lucky Charms” cereal, and if that’s not a way to ensure children associate unicorns with good fortune, I don’t know what would be!
Unicorns As Healers
Unicorns also represent healing, probably because of their purity. Going back to where this myth may have come from, AncientOrigins tells us how the Greek physician Ctesias believed Indian princes used unicorn horns to protect themselves from poisons. Many people also believed that unicorn horns could be used to purify tainted water. It was thought that they had the power to prolong life, and we can see this even in popular culture today: in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, for example, Voldemort drinks unicorn blood to sustain himself when he is half-alive, and Dumbledore explains that it will save you even if inches from death – though at a price.
In the medieval era, nobility paid extortionately high prices to buy unicorn horns, which were usually narwhal tusks passed off as unicorn horns. AtlasObscura explains how their horns were coveted across the globe for their powers, and in our article Narwhals – Whales With Unicorn Horns, we looked at how narwhal tusks first became associated with unicorn horns in the 1500s.
When Queen Elizabeth was gifted one by the explorer Martin Frobisher, she treasured it so much that it was kept with the crown jewels, and unicorn horns were sold at immensely high prices throughout Europe after that, often being used for cups and plates to “purify” food.
Unicorns are also generally thought to be non-aggressive, though they certainly are powerful defenders. They were seen as symbols of strength in medieval times, and that has continued today to an extent, but they are rarely shown as angry or violent creatures. Attacks will usually only be made when defending themselves or other creatures, often innocent ones. Unicorns are therefore more likely to provide healing and protection than pose a threat.
Unicorns Are Male And Female
This might sound pretty contradictory, but unicorns have represented both masculinity and femininity over their long history. The Guardian touches on this in their article Why The Unicorn Has Become The Emblem For Our Times, but it’s interesting to explore in detail.
Unicorns were traditionally a symbol of male power, and some unicorns in medieval depictions have goatees or even beards, which may be an attempt to recognize this. Many paintings show unicorns’ ferocity and strength in a way which is comparable to lions or other fierce beasts.
Today, we often – perhaps too often – associate unicorns almost exclusively with females. They are frequently depicted as pink, glitzy, and decidedly girly, and if you spend any amount of time browsing unicorn products, you’ll definitely see the gender bias. The connection with women may come from the idea of purity and virginity, and from the fact that in some legends, unicorns could only be tamed by female virgins. The healing association may further lend itself to feminizing the unicorn, as this is historically more often a woman’s role.
Although society seems to be currently leaning toward the feminine interpretations of unicorns, it’s interesting to know that they represent both, and hopefully it will come full circle sometime soon. Everyone deserves to enjoy these mythical equines, and their ability to represent both genders is one of the things we love about them; they are all-inclusive, there for everyone. We agree with the daughter of the Guardian Writer: some unicorns are boys, and they’re all powerful, brave, and magical.
We did a whole article on Unicorn LGBTQ+ Meaning And Symbolism, and also mentioned it in our article What Do Unicorns Represent? There’s no question that in today’s world, unicorns are firm allies of the LGBTQ+ community. This might have something to do with the gender fluidity we mentioned above, and may also be because unicorns have become so closely associated with rainbows – the main symbol for the LGBTQ+ community.
Unicorns represent a variety of things in the LGBTQ+ world, including fabulousness, individuality, and self-acceptance. We’ve already seen how the term has been borrowed by a certain dynamic of the dating world, but we love that unicorns manage to represent everyone, and that their meaning is so widespread across the globe. Whether you’re male, female, gender-fluid, or something else, unicorns are there, recognizing your existence and standing tall!
The Meaning Of White Unicorns
White unicorns are certainly the most common depiction, though more and more often we’re seeing different colors, or white unicorns with colorful manes, particularly as artists attempt to appeal to children. White unicorns carry all the usual connotations of good fortune, but have some more specific ones as well.
Perhaps because of their color, they are particularly associated with purity, and can also be connected with Christ and Christianity as a whole. It might seem an odd connotation, but unicorns have been associated with Christianity for some time and are even mentioned in the King James Bible. They are seen as an emblem of Christ, both for their purity and their magical healing abilities, which are sometimes connected with Christ’s rise from the dead.
White unicorns can mean so many different things, and we’ve discussed them in several articles, including White Unicorn Meaning & Symbolism and Unicorn Dreams Interpretation. Here, they are often thought to represent purity and virginity, as well serving as a sign that you are walking the right path in life. They can be guides sent to help you if you are struggling with aspects of life, or companions to reassure you that you are going in the right direction. White unicorns certainly have positive meanings, no matter which ones you look at!
The Meaning Of Black Unicorns
Also discussed in our dream interpretation article, black unicorns have a variety of meanings. We did a whole article on this, Black Unicorn: Mythology, Meaning In Dreams, Literature & Games. They often carry the same interpretation as other colored unicorns do, bringing good fortune and happiness, and it’s thought that the first unicorns may have been black, rather than white.
Nowadays, however, black unicorns can have some negative associations as well as positive ones – perhaps as a result of our preconceptions about light vs dark (think about the superstitions surrounding black cats). Black unicorns are still associated with strength and power, but can mean death or ill-fortune approaches, and are sometimes viewed as negative omens. They are one of the only instances in which unicorns can mean something negative, but despite that, they are still more frequently connected with positivity.
The True Meaning Of Unicorns
It seems fair to say that unicorns can mean almost anything, and that they are trotting alongside humanity with a fluidity and flexibility that defies all expectations. They have taken almost every shape and form imaginable, become code for an aspect of polyamorous dating, and been accepted as a symbol by minority groups and majorities alike. They have brought joy to children and adults across the globe, and generally made life a little more magical and special than it would otherwise have been.
I feel like I’ve found an answer to the question about why unicorns are seen as an emblem of our time. They embody so many different things which we wish to express and explore together, and our ability to impose these magical creatures into the realities of the everyday speaks volumes about creativity and hope.
Unicorns serve to unite us in a way that no other creature can, and we’re pretty sure they’re going to be tracing the footsteps of humanity, shimmering in the foliage and guiding us gently forward for a long, long time to come! If this is the age of the unicorn, let’s make it truly fabulous.