An emoticon (//, i-MOHT-i-kon, rarely pronounced //) short for "emotion icon", is a pictorial representation of a facial expression using characters—usually punctuation marks, numbers, and letters—to express a person's feelings or mood, or as a time-saving method. 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 (顔文字; lit. 顔(kao)=face, 文字(moji)=character(s)) 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.
Origin of the term
The word is a portmanteau word of the English words "emotion" and "icon". In web forums, instant messengers and online games, text emoticons are often automatically replaced with small corresponding images, which came to be called "emoticons" as well. Emoticons for a smiley face
:-) and sad face
:-( appear in the first documented use in digital form. Certain complex character combinations can only be accomplished in double-byte languages, giving rise to especially complex forms, sometimes known by their romanized Japanese name of kaomoji.
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 19 September 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.
A New York Times transcript of an Abraham Lincoln speech written in 1862 contains "
(applause and laughter ;)"; there is some debate whether it is a typo, a legitimate punctuation construct, or an emoticon.
Four vertical typographical emoticons were published in 1881 by the U.S. satirical magazine Puck, with the stated intention that the publication's letterpress department thus intended to "lay out [...] all the cartoonists that ever walked".
In 1912, Ambrose Bierce proposed "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".
In a 1936 Harvard Lampoon article, Alan Gregg proposed (-) for smile, (--) for laugh (more teeth showing), (#) for frown, (*) for wink, and (#) for "intense interest, attention, and incredulity". Note that the symbols are correctly oriented and are not sideways.
Emoticons had already come into use in sci-fi fandom in the 1940s, although there seems to have been a lapse in cultural continuity between the communities.
The September 1962 issue of MAD magazine included an article titled "Typewri-toons". The piece, featuring typewriter-generated artwork credited 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 1963, the "smiley face", a yellow button with two black dots representing eyes and an upturned thick curve representing a mouth was created by freelance artist Harvey Ball. It was realized on order of a large insurance company as part of a campaign to bolster the morale of its employees and soon became a big hit. This smiley presumably inspired many later emoticons; the most basic graphic emoticon that depicts this is, in fact, a small yellow smiley face.
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."
In 1971, a French journalist, Franklin Loufrani, created a smiley logo to mark good news in the French newspaper France Soir. Loufrani was the first person to trademark the symbol, in 1972. Later, in 1996, Loufrani established The Smiley Company with his son, Nicolas Loufrani. Nicolas 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. The Smiley Company has trademarked its version of the smiley face in over 100 countries. In 1997, The Smiley Company filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In 2001, Walmart opposed the registration, citing a likelihood of confusion between the Loufrani smiley and a smiley face Walmart had been using since 1990. The USPTO eventually sided with Walmart and rejected The Smiley Company's application, due to the widespread use of smiley face designs. Seeking to prevent Walmart from using any smiley face design, Nicolas Loufrani next sued Walmart in federal court in 2009, while claiming that his smiley face was "readily distinguishable" from Walmart's. The case was closed in 2011 when the two parties agreed to settle out of court. The terms of the settlement were undisclosed, but Walmart continued to use its smiley design intermittently and returned to using it in a major marketing role in 2016.
Starting circa 1972, on the PLATO system, emoticons and other decorative graphics were produced as ASCII art, particularly with overprinting: typing a character, backing up, then typing another character. For example, WOBTAX and VICTORY both produced convincing smiley faces (where the overprinted characters produced the solid background, and pixels untouched by any of the characters produced the actual design). This developed into a sophisticated set, particularly in combination with superscript and subscript.
Creation of :-) and :-(
Scott Fahlman was the first documented person to use the emoticons
:-(, with a specific suggestion that they be used to express emotion. The text of his original proposal, posted to the Carnegie Mellon University computer science general board on 19 September 1982 (11:44), was thought to have been lost, but 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 :-(
Usually, emoticons in Western style have the eyes on the left, followed by nose and the mouth. The two character version
:) which omits the nose is also very popular.
Common Western examples
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. There are hundreds of 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. 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
Japanese style ("Kaomojis")
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 Japanese characters rather than just ASCII allowed for the development of new kaomoji using the extended character set, such as
Modern communication software generally utilizes Unicode, which allows for the incorporation of characters from other languages (e.g. from the Cyrillic alphabet), and a variety of symbols into the kaomoji, as in
Further variations can be produced using Unicode combining characters, as in
Western use of Japanese style
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. Another apparently Western invention is the use of emoticons like
`;..;´ to indicate vampires or other mythical beasts with fangs.
Mixture of Western and Japanese style
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
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:
Chinese ideographic style
The character 囧 (U+56E7), which means "bright", is also used in the Chinese computing community for a frowning face. It is also 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) may be duplicated to express emphasis.
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 failure and despair. It is also commonly used for representing a great admiration (sometimes with an overtone of sarcasm) for someone else's view or action.
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 girls they are pursuing with a phrase like "You are a nice guy."
Orz should not be confused with m(_ _)m, which means "Thank you" or an apology.
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.
Some services, such as MuzIcons, combine emoticons and music player in an Adobe Flash-based widget.
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 credited 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 of a popular name yet and there are several ways to designate them: "emoticlips" (named above), "emotivideos" or more recently "emoticon videos". These are tiny little videos which can be easily transferred from one mobile phone to another or many other devices. The current video compression codecs (like H.264) allow these pieces of video to be light in terms of KB and very portable.
Emoticons and intellectual property rights
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 2005, a Russian court rejected a legal claim against Siemens by a man who claimed to hold a trademark on the
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.
Some smiley faces were present in Unicode since 1.1.0, 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 1F9E7 – 1F9FF do not contain any emoticons since Unicode 10.0 (2017).
|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.
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