An emoticon (//, ə-MOH-tə-kon, rarely pronounced //), short for "emotion icon", also known simply as an emote, is a pictorial representation of a facial expression using characters—usually punctuation marks, numbers, and letters—to express a person's feelings, mood or reaction, or as a time-saving method. Early emoticons were the precursors to modern emojis, which are ever-developing predominantly on iOS and Android devices. The first ASCII emoticons,
:-(, were written by Scott Fahlman in 1982, but emoticons actually originated on the PLATO IV computer system in 1972.
In Western countries, emoticons are usually written at a right angle to the direction of the text. Users from Japan popularized a kind of emoticon called kaomoji, utilizing the Katakana character set, that can be understood without tilting one's head to the left. This style arose on ASCII NET of Japan in 1986.
As SMS and the Internet became widespread in the late 1990s, emoticons became increasingly popular and were commonly used on text messages, Internet forums and e-mails. Emoticons have played a significant role in communication through technology, and some devices and applications have provided stylized pictures that do not use text punctuation. They offer another range of "tone" and feeling through texting that portrays specific emotions through facial gestures while in the midst of text-based cyber communication.
Emoticons began with the suggestion that combinations of punctuation could be used in typography to replace language. While Scott Fahlman's suggestion in the 1980s was the birth of the emoticon, it wasn't the first occasion that :) or :-) was used in language.
In 1648, poet Robert Herrick included the lines:
Tumble me down, and I will sit
Upon my ruins, (smiling yet:)
Herrick's work predated any other recorded use of brackets as a smiling face by around 200 years. However, experts have since weighed whether the inclusion of the colon in the poem was deliberate and if it was meant to represent a smiling face. English professor Alan Jacobs argued "punctuation in general was unsettled in the seventeenth century... Herrick was unlikely to have consistent punctuational practices himself, and even if he did he couldn't expect either his printers or his readers to share them."
Many different forms of communication are now seen as precursors to emoticons and more recently emojis. The use of emoticons can be traced back to the 17th century, drawn by a Slovak notary to indicate his satisfaction with the state of his town's municipal financial records in 1635, but they were commonly used in casual and humorous writing. Digital forms of emoticons on the Internet were included in a proposal by Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in a message on September 19, 1982.
The National Telegraphic Review and Operators Guide in April 1857 documented the use of the number 73 in Morse code to express "love and kisses" (later reduced to the more formal "best regards"). Dodge's Manual in 1908 documented the reintroduction of "love and kisses" as the number 88. Gajadhar and Green comment that both Morse code abbreviations are more succinct than modern abbreviations such as LOL. Aside from morse code, other communication tools such as generic prosigns were seen by some as an evolution of language. The first time an emoticon appeared in text was in the transcript of one of Abraham Lincoln's speeches written in 1862. It contained the following:
applause and laughter ;)
According to the New York Times, there has been some debate whether the emoticon in Abraham Lincoln's speech was a typo, a legitimate punctuation construct, or the first emoticon. In the late 1800s, the first emoticons were created as an art form in the U.S. satirical magazine Puck. In total, four different emoticon designs were displayed, all using punctuation to create different typographical emoticon faces. The emoticon designs were similar to that which formed many years later in Japan, often referred to as "Kaomoji", due to their complicated design. Despite the innovation, complex emoticons didn't develop in Japan until nearly a century later. In 1912, American author Ambrose Bierce was the first to suggest that a bracket could be used to represent a smiling face. He stated, "an improvement in punctuation – the snigger point, or note of cachinnation: it is written thus ‿ and presents a smiling mouth. It is to be appended, with the full stop, to every jocular or ironical sentence".
Following this breakthrough statement, other writers and linguistic experts began to put out theories as to how punctuations could be used in collections to represent a face. Moving on from Bierce's theory that a horizontal brackets could be used for a smiling face, Alan Gregg was the first recorded person to suggest that by combining punctuation marks, more elaborate emotions could be demonstrated. There is an argument that this was the first real set of emoticons, despite later designs becoming the standard for emoticons. Gregg published his theory in 1936, in a Harvard Lampoon article. He suggested that by turning the bracket sideways, it could be used for the sides of the mouth or cheeks, with other punctuation used between the brackets to display various emotions. Gregg's theory took the step of creating more than one smiling face, with (-) for a normal smile and (--) for a laughing smile. The logic behind the design was that more teeth were showing on the wider design. Two other emoticons were proposed in the article, with (#) for a frown and (*) for a wink.
The September 1962 issue of MAD magazine included an article titled "Typewri-toons". The piece, featuring typewriter-generated artwork cred to "Royal Portable", was entirely made up of repurposed typography, including a capital letter P having a bigger bust than a capital I, a lowercase b and d discussing their pregnancies, an asterisk on top of a letter to indicate the letter had just come inside from a snowfall, and a classroom of lowercase n's interrupted by a lowercase h "raising its hand". Two additional "Typewri-toons" articles subsequently appeared in Mad, in 1965 and 1987.
In a New York Times interview in April 1969, Alden Whitman asked writer Vladimir Nabokov: "How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?" Nabokov answered: "I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile – some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question."
Until this point, many of the designs considered to be early emoticons were created using fairly basic punctuation, using a single punctuation mark instead of a word or to express feeling, before individuals started combining two punctuations (often a colon and bracket) to create something that resembled a smiling face.
Scott Fahlman is considered to be the first person to create the first true emoticon as he began to experiment with using multiple punctuation marks to display emotion and replace language. He is the first documented person to use a complex emoticon of three or more punctuation marks, with
:-( with a specific suggestion that they be used to express emotion. Not only did Fahlman create two different emoticons, he also said with the emoticons that they could be used to express emotion. While Nabokov had suggested something similar to Fahlman, there was little analysis of the wider consideration of what Nabokov could do with the design. Fahlman on the other hand quickly theorized that his emoticons could be designed to replace language on a large scale. The two designs of colon, hyphen and bracket were also adapted very quickly to portray a range of emotions, therefore creating the first true set of emoticons.
The message from Fahlman was sent via the Carnegie Mellon University computer science general board on September 19, 1982. The conversation was taking place between many notable computer scientists, including David Touretzky, Guy Steele, and Jaime Carbonell. The messaging transcript was considered to have been lost, before it was recovered 20 years later by Jeff Baird from old backup tapes.
19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-) From: Scott E Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c> I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use :-(
Inspired by Scott Fahlman's idea of using faces in language, the Loufrani family established The Smiley Company in 1996. Nicolas Loufrani developed hundreds of different emoticons, including 3D versions. His designs were registered at the United States Copyright Office in 1997 and appeared online as .gif files in 1998. These were the first graphical representations of the originally text-based emoticon. He published his icons as well as emoticons created by others, along with their ASCII versions, in an online Smiley Dictionary in the early 2000s. This dictionary included over 3,000 different smileys and was published as a book called Dico Smileys in 2002.
Usually, emoticons in Western style have the eyes on the left, followed by the nose and the mouth. The two-character version
:) which omits the nose is also very popular.
The most basic emoticons are relatively consistent in form, but each of them can be transformed by being rotated (making them tiny ambigrams), with or without a hyphen (nose).
There are also some possible variations to emoticons to get new definitions, like changing a character to express a new feeling, or slightly change the mood of the emoticon. For example,
:( equals sad and
:(( equals very sad. Weeping can be written as
:'(. A blush can be expressed as
:">. Others include wink
;), a grin
:->, and tongue out
:P, such as when blowing a raspberry. An often used combination is also
<3 for a heart, and
</3 for a broken heart.
:O is also sometimes used to depict shock.
A broad grin is sometimes shown with crinkled eyes to express further amusement;
XD and the addition of further "D" letters can suggest laughter or extreme amusement e.g.
XDDDD. The same is true for
X3 but the three represents an animals mouth. There are other variations including
>:( for anger, or
>:D for an evil grin, which can be, again, used in reverse, for an unhappy angry face, in the shape of
=K for vampire teeth,
:s for grimace, and
;P can be used to denote a flirting or joking tone, or may be implying a second meaning in the sentence preceding it.
As computers offer increasing built-in support for non-Western writing systems, it has become possible to use other glyphs to build emoticons. The 'shrug' emoticon,
¯\_(ツ)_/¯, uses the glyph ツ from the Japanese katakana writing system.
An equal sign is often used for the eyes in place of the colon, seen as
=), without changing the meaning of the emoticon. In these instances, the hyphen is almost always either omitted or, occasionally, replaced with an "o" as in
=O). In most circles it has become acceptable to omit the hyphen, whether a colon or an equal sign is used for the eyes, but in some areas of usage people still prefer the larger, more traditional emoticon
:^). One linguistic study has indicated that the use of a nose in an emoticon may be related to the user's age, with younger people less likely to use a nose. Similar-looking characters are commonly substituted for one another: for instance,
0 can all be used interchangeably, sometimes for subtly different effect or, in some cases, one type of character may look better in a certain font and therefore be preferred over another. It is also common for the user to replace the rounded brackets used for the mouth with other, similar brackets, such as
] instead of
Some variants are also more common in certain countries due to keyboard layouts. For example, the smiley
=) may occur in Scandinavia, where the keys for
) are placed right beside each other. However, the
:) variant is without a doubt the dominant one in Scandinavia, making the
=) version a rarity. Diacritical marks are sometimes used. The letters
Ü can be seen as an emoticon, as the upright version of
:O (meaning that one is surprised) and
:D (meaning that one is very happy) respectively.
Some emoticons may be read right to left instead, and in fact, can only be written using standard ASCII keyboard characters this way round; for example
D: which refers to being shocked or anxious, opposite to the large grin of
Users from Japan popularized a style of emoticons (顔文字, kaomoji, lit. "face characters") that can be understood without tilting one's head to the left. This style arose on ASCII NET, an early Japanese online service, in 1986. Similar-looking emoticons were used on the Byte Information Exchange (BIX) around the same time.
These emoticons are usually found in a format similar to
(*_*). The asterisks indicate the eyes; the central character, commonly an underscore, the mouth; and the parentheses, the outline of the face.
Different emotions can be expressed by changing the character representing the eyes: for example, "T" can be used to express crying or sadness:
T_T may also be used to mean "unimpressed". The emphasis on the eyes in this style is reflected in the common usage of emoticons that use only the eyes, e.g.
^^. Looks of stress are represented by the likes of
(-_-;) is a generic emoticon for nervousness, the semicolon representing an anxiety-induced sweat drop (discussed further below).
/// can indicate embarrassment by symbolizing blushing. Characters like hyphens or periods can replace the underscore; the period is often used for a smaller, "cuter" mouth, or to represent a nose, e.g.
(^.^). Alternatively, the mouth/nose can be left out entirely, e.g.
Parentheses are sometimes replaced with braces or square brackets, e.g.
[o_0]. Many times, the parentheses are left out completely, e.g.
e.e. A quotation mark
', or semicolon
; can be added to the emoticon to imply apprehension or embarrassment, in the same way that a sweat drop is used in manga and anime.
Microsoft IME 2000 (Japanese) or later supports the input of emoticons like the above by enabling the Microsoft IME Spoken Language/Emotion Dictionary. In IME 2007, this support was moved to the Emoticons dictionary. Such dictionaries allow users to call up emoticons by typing words that represent them.
Communication software allowing the use of Shift JIS encoded characters rather than just ASCII allowed for the development of more kaomoji using the extended character set including hiragana, katakana, kanji, symbols, Greek and Cyrillic alphabet, such as
Modern communication software generally utilizes Unicode, which allows for the incorporation of characters from other languages and a variety of symbols into the kaomoji, as in
Further variations can be produced using Unicode combining characters, as in
English-language anime forums adopted those Japanese-style emoticons that could be used with the standard ASCII characters available on Western keyboards. Because of this, they are often called "anime style" emoticons in English. They have since seen use in more mainstream venues, including online gaming, instant-messaging, and non-anime-related discussion forums. Emoticons such as
<( ^.^ )>,
<( -'.'- )>,
(>';..;')> which include the parentheses, mouth or nose, and arms (especially those represented by the inequality signs < or >) also are often referred to as "Kirbys" in reference to their likeness to Nintendo's video game character Kirby. The parentheses are sometimes dropped when used in the English language context, and the underscore of the mouth may be extended as an intensifier for the emoticon in question, e.g.
^_________^ for very happy. The emoticon
t(-_-t) uses the Eastern style, but incorporates a depiction of the Western "middle-finger flick-off" using a "t" as the arm, hand, and finger. Using a lateral click for the nose such as in is believed to originate from the Finnish image-based message board Ylilauta, and is called a "Lenny face". Another apparently Western invention is the use of emoticons like
`;..;´ to indicate vampires or other mythical beasts with fangs.
Exposure to both Western and Japanese style emoticons or kaomoji through blogs, instant messaging, and forums featuring a blend of Western and Japanese pop culture has given rise to many emoticons that have an upright viewing format. The parentheses are often dropped, and these emoticons typically only use alphanumeric characters and the most commonly used English punctuation marks. Emoticons such as
.V. are used to convey mixed emotions that are more difficult to convey with traditional emoticons. Characters are sometimes added to emoticons to convey an anime- or manga-styled sweat drop, for example
*u*. The equals sign can also be used for closed, anime-looking eyes, for example
uwu face (and its variations
OwO), is an emoticon of Japanese origin which denotes a cute expression or emotion felt by the user.
In Brazil, sometimes combining characters (accents) are added to emoticons to represent eyebrows, as in
Users of the Japanese discussion board 2channel, in particular, have developed a wide variety of unique emoticons using characters from various languages, such as Kannada, as in
ಠ_ಠ (for a look of disapproval, disbelief, or confusion). These were quickly picked up by 4chan and spread to other Western sites soon after. Some have taken on a life of their own and become characters in their own right, like Monā.
In South Korea, emoticons use Korean Hangul letters, and the Western style is rarely used. The structures of Korean and Japanese emoticons are somewhat similar, but they have some differences. Korean style contains Korean jamo (letters) instead of other characters. There are countless number of emoticons that can be formed with such combinations of Korean jamo letters. Consonant jamos
ㅂ as the mouth/nose component and
ㅍ for the eyes. For example:
-ㅅ-. Faces such as
'ㅇ', using quotation marks
" and apostrophes
' are also commonly used combinations. Vowel jamos such as ㅜ,ㅠ depict a crying face. Example:
뉴뉴 (same function as T in western style). Sometimes ㅡ (not an em-dash "—" but a vowel jamo), a comma or an underscore is added, and the two character sets can be mixed together, as in
ㅜㅇㅡ. Also, semicolons and carets are commonly used in Korean emoticons; semicolons mean sweating (embarrassed). If they are used with ㅡ or – they depict a bad feeling. Examples:
^^, ^오^ means smile (almost all people use this without distinction of sex or age). Others include:
The character 囧 (U+56E7), which means "bright", may be combined with posture emoticon Orz, such as 囧rz. The character existed in Oracle bone script, but its use as emoticon was documented as early as January 20, 2005.
Other ideographic variants for 囧 include 崮 (king 囧), 莔 (queen 囧), 商 (囧 with hat), 囧興 (turtle), 卣 (Bomberman).
The character 槑 (U+69D1), which sounds like the word for "plum" (梅 (U+FA44)), is used to represent double of 呆 (dull), or further magnitude of dullness. In Chinese, normally full characters (as opposed to the stylistic use of 槑) might be duplicated to express emphasis.
On the Russian speaking Internet, the right parenthesis
) is used as a smiley. Multiple parentheses
)))) are used to express greater happiness, amusement or laughter. It is commonly placed at the end of a sentence. The colon is omitted due to being in a lesser-known and difficult to type position on the ЙЦУКЕН keyboard layout.
Orz (other forms include: Or2, on_, OTZ, OTL, STO, JTO, _no, ＿冂○, 囧rz,) is an emoticon representing a kneeling or bowing person (the Japanese version of which is called dogeza) with the "o" being the head, the "r" being the arms and part of the body, and the "z" being part of the body and the legs. This stick figure can represent respect or kowtowing, but commonly appears along a range of responses, including "frustration, despair, sarcasm, or grudging respect".
It was first used in late 2002 at the forum on Techside, a Japanese personal website. At the "Techside FAQ Forum" (TECHSIDE教えて君BBS(教えてBBS) ), a poster asked about a cable cover, typing "＿|￣|○" to show a cable and its cover. Others commented that it looked like a kneeling person, and the symbol became popular. These comments were soon deleted as they were considered off-topic. By 2005, Orz spawned a subculture: blogs have been devoted to the emoticon, and URL shortening services have been named after it. In Taiwan, Orz is associated with the phrase "nice guy" – that is, the concept of males being rejected for a date by females, with a phrase like "You are a nice guy."
A portmanteau of emotion and sound, an emotisound is a brief sound transmitted and played back during the viewing of a message, typically an IM message or e-mail message. The sound is intended to communicate an emotional subtext. Many instant messaging clients automatically trigger sound effects in response to specific emoticons.
In 2004, the Trillian chat application introduced a feature called "emotiblips", which allows Trillian users to stream files to their instant message recipients "as the voice and video equivalent of an emoticon".
In 2007, MTV and Paramount Home Entertainment promoted the "emoticlip" as a form of viral marketing for the second season of the show The Hills. The emoticlips were twelve short snippets of dialogue from the show, uploaded to YouTube, which the advertisers hoped would be distributed between web users as a way of expressing feelings in a similar manner to emoticons. The emoticlip concept is cred to the Bradley & Montgomery advertising firm, which hopes they would be widely adopted as "greeting cards that just happen to be selling something".
In 2008, an emotion-sequence animation tool, called FunIcons was created. The Adobe Flash and Java-based application allows users to create a short animation. Users can then email or save their own animations to use them on similar social utility applications.
During the first half of the 2010s, there have been different forms of small audiovisual pieces to be sent through instant messaging systems to express one's emotion. These videos lack an established name, and there are several ways to designate them: "emoticlips" (named above), "emotivideos" or more recently "emoticon videos". These are tiny videos which can be easily transferred from one mobile phone to another. Current video compression codecs such as H.264 allow these pieces of video to be light in terms of file size and very portable. The popular computer and mobile app Skype use these in a separate keyboard or by typing the code of the "emoticon videos" between parentheses.
In 2000, Despair, Inc. obtained a U.S. trademark registration for the "frowny" emoticon
:-( when used on "greeting cards, posters and art prints". In 2001, they issued a satirical press release, announcing that they would sue Internet users who typed the frowny; the joke backfired and the company received a storm of protest when its mock release was posted on technology news website Slashdot.
A number of patent applications have been filed on inventions that assist in communicating with emoticons. A few of these have been issued as US patents. US 6987991 , for example, discloses a method developed in 2001 to send emoticons over a cell phone using a drop-down menu. The stated advantage over the prior art was that the user saved on the number of keystrokes though this may not address the obviousness criteria.
:-) was also filed in 2006 and registered in 2008 as a European Community Trademark (CTM). In Finland, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled in 2012 that the emoticon cannot be trademarked, thus repealing a 2006 administrative decision trademarking the emoticons
In 2008, Russian entrepreneur Oleg Teterin claimed to have been granted the trademark on the
;-) emoticon. A license would not "cost that much – tens of thousands of dollars" for companies, but would be free of charge for individuals.
A different, but related, use of the term "emoticon" is found in the Unicode Standard, referring to a subset of emoji which display facial expressions. The standard explains this usage with reference to existing systems, which provided functionality for substituting certain textual emoticons with images or emoji of the expressions in question.
Some smiley faces were present in Unicode since 1.1, including a white frowning face, a white smiling face, and a black smiling face. ("Black" refers to a glyph which is filled, "white" refers to a glyph which is unfilled).
|Miscellaneous Symbols (partial)|
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
After that block had been filled, Unicode 8.0 (2015), 9.0 (2016) and 10.0 (2017) added additional emoticons in the range from U+1F910 to U+1F9FF. Currently, U+1F90C – U+1F90F, U+1F93F, U+1F94D – U+1F94F, U+1F96C – U+1F97F, U+1F998 – U+1F9CF (excluding U+1F9C0 which contains the 🧀 emoji) and U+1F9E7 – U+1F9FF do not contain any emoticons since Unicode 10.0.
|Supplemental Symbols and Pictographs|
Official Unicode Consortium code chart (PDF)
For historic and compatibility reasons, some other heads and figures, which mostly represent different aspects like genders, activities, and professions instead of emotions, are also found in Miscellaneous Symbols and Pictographs (especially U+1F466 – U+1F487) and Transport and Map Symbols. Body parts, mostly hands, are also encoded in the Dingbat and Miscellaneous Symbols blocks.
Emoticon An acronym for emotion icon, a small icon composed of punctuation characters that indicate how an e-mail message should be interpreted (that is, the writer's mood).
＜正直＞アフターバーナー予約してしまいました＿|￣|○←早速使ってみるｗ (12/23 00:20)
＜ルン＞/土下座＿|￣| ○のび助 ・・・駄目だ、完全に遅れた (12/23 23:09)
To complicate matters, some emoji are also emoticons […] the emoji which depict emotive faces are separated out as "emoticons".
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