Duolingo’s one true leader? The Duolingo Owl. The owl that’s launched a thousand memes and has cult status on TikTok. So why is the Duolingo Owl the way he (yes, Duolingo confirmed the owl uses he/him pronouns) is, and what is there to know about this language-learning overlord?
Let’s dive in and find out!
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What’s the Duolingo Owl Called?
First things first, we need to know the Duolingo Owl’s name. It’s not the most imaginative name in the world. It’s Duo.
You may know it from the notifications you get saying “You made Duo sad”. This owl is not above guilt-tripping you into getting what he wants.
Why is the Duolingo Mascot an Owl?
So, in a lot of cultures owls represent wisdom and knowledge. This probably stems from the Ancient Greeks where Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom was represented by an owl.
Throughout time and pop culture, owls are used to denote knowledge, even in Disney films – does anyone else remember Archimedes in The Sword and the Stone? This was the main reason that Duo is an owl.
That being said, it was a close call. As it turns out, not all cultures associate owls with wisdom, in fact, some believe that they’re the bringers of death and the underworld.
Now, we know that Duo can be intense and sometimes a little bit dark, but this is not the reason why. In the end, after a lot of discussion about the suitability of Duo the Owl as the Duolingo mascot, wisdom won out.
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Why is the Duolingo Owl Green?
It might sound like a weird question, but the iconic bright green Duolingo branding wasn’t always on the cards. The two founders of Duolingo, Luis von Ahn, and Severin Hacker, were discussing the concept and design for the mascot and Hacker had only one guiding principle: the mascot could not be green.
So of course, von Ahn and the team made Duo bright green as a joke and it stuck. Who says branding workshops can’t be fun?
The Evolution of Duo the Owl
Duo the Owl hasn’t always been the sleek and happy owl you currently know him to be. In fact, if you’ve been using Duolingo for a while you’ll have seen a lot of the transformation.
In the beginning, there was one true Duo. He had his name on his face, was 2D, and was designed to be face-on.
Actually, it’s not super different from the current iteration of our beloved Duo, however, it is pretty plain and looks like Duo is wearing an amazing pair of fake sunglasses.
Just one year into Duolingo’s journey a rebrand quickly happened. This is because of a new iOS update where the Duolingo team needed to tweak the branding to suit the new platform.
In this process, Duo got a 3D makeover complete with feathers and a colorful beak. Here, he definitely looks more like an owl and less like a cutout stencil of an owl.
A couple of years later, the team revisited Duo’s iconic look. Keeping the 3D base, Duolingo ended up making the owl a lot smoother and more rounded. Essentially, they went for a super cartoonish vibe that was cute and endearing to the audience.
He even had little yellow feet that weren’t attached to his body instead of the stick man legs that he had in previous versions. This is probably the version of Duo the Owl that most people would recognize, considering it lasted a full four years until he was designed for the last time in 2018.
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So, here we have the modern version of Duo. He still has a happy-go-lucky vibe around him with a pose that looks like he’s jumping in the air. Duolingo kept the smooth aesthetic, separated feet, and enlarged the eyes to make him more cartoony and cute.
The team also went back to a 2D version of Duo. This was to keep everything simpler and cleaner, as this redesign was part of a full brand overhaul. The whole interface changed in 2018, with more features dropping and even more Duolingo characters launched back in 2020 in the same kind of art style.
This has definitely been a successful redesign and has stuck around for the longest time – possibly because now Duo matches all the graphics and characters around him.
Duolingo also saw a rise in subscriptions after this redesign, so there’s definitely something about the cuteness of Duo that makes you want to get your wallet out.
The Dreaded Duo Threats
Okay, so Duo may look cute, but those of us who’ve used Duolingo know better than that. Duo is a tough taskmaster who rules the language-learning landscape with an iron wing. So much so, that it spawned a whole set of memes that we’ll go into in more detail further on in this article.
So, it’s important to know that Duo is an imaginary mascot and can’t actually hurt you. He just wants the best for you and for you to be fluent in your chosen language. This doesn’t stop him from being super passive-aggressive though.
The nagging emails and push notifications when you haven’t signed in for a while really tug at your heartstrings and guilt-trip you in a way that you thought only family members could do. The Duolingo team even designed a crying version of Duo to guilt-trip you even further – that was a low blow all around!
You can get a notification or guilt-trip email in the middle of a meeting, on vacation, at a wedding, or while you’re asleep – Duo doesn’t care about your life, just about your language learning progress.
Whether it’s “You made Duo sad”, “Keep Duo happy with a lesson”, or “We missed you”, Duo knows exactly what to say to keep you returning, even after a long language-learning break. The threats may not be real, but they’re certainly effective.
Duo the Owl Fan Art
Some users are absolutely obsessed with Duo, making him some kind of cult hero in the language-learning world. So much so, that artists around the world create fan art featuring their favorite passive-aggressive owl.
If you head over to Duolingo’s Instagram account, they do a feature called Fan Art Fridays, where they share their favorites and give a shout-out to the artist behind the work.
Here are some of our fave Duo-inspired fan art pieces, including some awesome nail art:
This amazing Duo nail art was done by @_madznails_
Duo the Owl Plush Toys
Did you know that you can even get your hands on a Duo the Owl plush toy? You can sit him on your desk or shelf, reminding you in person to constantly be learning a new language.
A couple of people who work for Duolingo have shared photos of the plush toy, but you can’t seem to buy it at the moment. That being said, the Duolingo social accounts do tend to do giveaways on a fairly regular basis, so give them a follow and throw your name into the ring the next time they mention a giveaway.
Duo the Owl Memes
Okay, so we’ve mentioned the memes in passing before, and honestly, some of them are amazing. The hold that Duo the Owl has over us is really something to behold and these memes prove it.
From the threatening nagware to the Duo social team stealthily replying to language tweets, to the giant TikTok Duolingo mascot taking to the streets, it’s a meme category that is varied, terrifying, and hilarious.
Here are some of our favorite Duo the Owl memes:
Of course, as with all memes, they’re supposed to be taken as a joke – even if some of them hit a little bit close to home…
Duo the Owl Takes Over TikTok
With new social media platforms come new opportunities for Duo to complete its world domination. So much so, the Duo has taken TikTok by storm in the form of a giant, real-life mascot that seemingly terrorizes the Duolingo offices and takes to the street to confront unsuspecting members of the public.
As well as sharing and getting in the top-tier language memes, Duo also puts his own spin on the latest TikTok trends and remixes, and also weirdly seems to have an obsession with Dua Lipa. I mean who doesn’t, honestly coming from a six-foot green bird, it’s a lot.
The Duolingo account is essentially all Duo the Giant Owl and the views often get into the millions. Honestly, it’s Duo’s world and we’re all just living in it now.
From Balenciaga’s hot takes to dating trends to twerking around the Duolingo office, nothing seems too weird or outrageous for Duo and the Duolingo TikTok team.
You Gotta Love & Hate the Duolingo Owl
So, we all know and love Duo the Duolingo Owl. Whether you’ve been with him since he looked like a weird green stencil or are coming in hot as a TikTok Duo fan, he captures all of us. Hopefully not literally, as some of the memes tend to suggest.
Our beloved passive-aggressive green bird is as much a part of Duolingo as the lessons themselves and even though we feel guilty every time we get a disappointed notification or email from Duo, we wouldn’t want it any other way.
Where will Duo’s reign of the universe take him next? It’s anyone’s guess. The Oval Office? A new owner of Twitter? Boarding a space shuttle to colonize Mars? With Duo, anything is possible, especially where language learning supremacy is involved.
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Dayna Brockbank is a travel and language-learning blogger who has lived around the world but has now settled in Nice, France. She speaks 3 languages at varying levels of fluency: Spanish, Italian, and French, and graduated with a Bachelor’s in Spanish Education. She and her husband focus on making travel part of life by living cheaply and traveling on a budget.