An emoticon is a version of shorthand developed by Internet users to help express emotions and thoughts without typing out the words. One dictionary definition of emoticons says that they . . . are a very clever use of standard punctuation marks to express a human emotion. When we communicate face to face, non-verbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions and tone of voice plays a crucial part in how someone interprets what we say. Emoticons allow us to personalize and put non-verbal communication into our written messages, to create e-mail moods. The key to communication is language; the emotion allows people to express feelings quickly and effectively through written word.

The Origins & Use of Emoticons

The term "emoticon" is a blend of two words, emotion and icon. Emoticons are those little sideways smiley faces that you see at the end of sentences, within an email, chat room, or instant message. Emoticons are ASCII glyphs, or text characters that look like human faces on their side, and are designed to indicate an emotional state in an electronic text message.

Emoticons are limited to the alphabet and punctuation symbols on a standard keyboard at this time. There are new forms of emoticons or smileys being developed everyday. There are new forms of smileys, upright, colorful emoticons that are now available for downloading into your messages.

Emoticons are facial expressions or charicatures created through the use of punctuation symbols on the standard computer keyboard. Emoticons are also well known as smileys. They are simple strings of characters that are interspersed in email text to convey emotions within written text. Emoticons help to clarify the tone of text messages.

Emoticons began as symbols for the use of showing emotion within written electronic messages. Over time they have developed into an art form. There are now emoticons symbolizing Santa Claus, a Chef and even different animals.

History of Emoticons

The origin of the original emoticon, the basic smiley face :-), is a matter of some dispute. Kevin Mackenzie is often credited with creating the first emoticon as the "tongue in cheek" symbol in 1979.

Others point to Scott Fahlman, who created the first digital smiley face and the first virtual frown in 1982. These were the first smiley faces that were not simply made of keyboard characters. In the 1980s, Howard Ball created a different form of the digital smiley face, the yellow upright smiley face that can now be downloaded off the Internet. Howard Ball is a graphic artist who created the first smiley as part of a morale boosting campaign.

The Use of Emoticons

There are basic emoticons and smileys used in email messages to express emotions. Many people use Emoticons, they are a very popular form of shorthand for portraying emotions within email or instant messaging. There are thousands of emoticons located on the Internet and more are being created everyday. Here are a few of the more commonly used emoticons:


The classic smiley face (happy, grin)




The simpler variation




The frown (unhappy)


Mad or angry


Surprise or shock


Laughing or very happy


Screaming or shouting


Smile with a wink (joking, kidding, or sarcasm

How to Create and Understand Emoticons

Emoticons are made through the use of different combinations of numbers, letters and punctuation symbols that are found on a standard computer keyboard. There are hundreds and even thousands of emoticons that have been created. Emoticons have been created to represent almost everything, for example:

Santa Claus  


Wearing sunglasses  
The Pope



Jim Carrey


Cindy Crawford

A Happy Drunk
Robo Cop

Emoticons created by keyboard characters are not always obvious when viewed horizontally. To see the face instead of just a string of different symbols, you need to tilt your head to the left, so that the right side of the emoticon becomes the bottom. Newer software packages allow users to use small images instead of a string of keyboard characters.

Social Ramifications and Issues

Advantages of Emoticons

Text is a relatively lean medium. Emoticons allow people to express feeling and communicate more than the written word. Emoticons can enhance email and chat room dialogues. For example, humor and sarcasm donít come across well in text. But a smile at the end of a sentence can make a dramatic difference in how it is perceived. Emoticons can also help save time, and generally help to lighten the mood within a message. The key to using emoticons correctly is to use them sparingly and in the right setting.

Disadvantages of Emoticons

The key to using emoticons is to use them sparingly. They tend to look like hieroglyphics to someone who has never before seen them. If you do use emoticons within your text messages, any more than one in a sentence or three in a paragraph can make you stand out as a newbie to using emoticons. Emoticons may seem annoying and unprofessional in a business setting.

Related Links

Emoticons: Definitions, Acronyms and Abbreviations. This is a great site for a general overview and a list of the more common emoticons

History of Emoticons: The birth of a universal language. This is the main Smiley Website, great information on the history of smileys and emoticons.

Internet for Beginners Article. Donít Hide Your Emoticons!

Gabasoft Article about Emoticons. Donít Get Overly Emotional: Overdoing Smileys is A No-No

Business Week Online Article. The Man Who Brought a :-) to Your Screen. Great article about the creator of emoticons.

How to Network Article: How to Understand Internet Slang. Discusses different types of Internet slang.