Emoticons and Emoji

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What Are Emoticons?

Emoticons - The Many Faces of the Emotional Icon. Getty Images

An emoticon is a digital icon (aka a little picture), created by inserting from a menu choice or created by using a sequence of keyboard symbols.

Emoticons represent how a writer or texter is feeling (their emotional state) and helps better express what the writer or texter means. For example if something you wrote was meant as a joke and you want to make that clear, you could add a laughing face emoticon to your text. Another example would be using an emoticon of a kissing face to express the fact that you like someone without having to write, I like you.

The classic emoticon that most people have seen is the little smiley happy face, that emoticon can be inserted or created with keyboard strokes with :‐)

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Scott Fahlman - Father of the Smiley Face

Single Emoticon (Smiling)
Single Emoticon (Smiling). Getty Images

For the purposes of defining who was first - I am going to use "who used it first digitally" rather than print published - in reference to the first emoticon.

Professor Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University used the first emoticon at exactly 11.44 a.m. on the 19th of September 1982, and it was a smiley face :-) Fahlman posted it on a Carnegie Mellon computer bulletin board and he added a note that suggested students use the emoticon to indicate which of their posts were intended as jokes, or were not serious.

On his website Scott Fahlman describes his motivation for the creation of the first emoticon:

This problem caused some of us to suggest (only half seriously) that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously.

After all, when using text-based online communication, we lack the body language or tone-of-voice cues that convey this information when we talk in person or on the phone.

Various “joke markers” were suggested, and in the midst of that discussion it occurred to me that the character sequence :-) would be an elegant solution – one that could be handled by the ASCII-based computer terminals of the day. So I suggested that.

In the same post, I also suggested the use of :-( to indicate that a message was meant to be taken seriously, though that symbol quickly evolved into a marker for displeasure, frustration, or anger.

Below is a copy of the original posting [slightly edited] made by Scott Fahlman on the Carnegie Mellon bulletin board source:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-)
From: Scott E Fahlman Fahlman

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 :-(

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Keyboard Stroke Shortcuts for Emoticons

combination of symbols communicating emotions in message form
combination of symbols communicating emotions in message form. Getty Images

As I described in a previous slide, today many applications will include a menu for automatically inserting an emoticon. I have one on the keyboard of my android phone for inserting into texts. However, some applications do not have this feature (the ones below should work in facebook which recently added an emoticon menu). So here are a few of the common emoticons and the keyboard strokes for making them.

One tip for those of you completely out of the emoticon loop, turn your head sideways to read these.

  • :) is a smile
  • ;) is a wink
  • :P is a tease or sticking your tongue out
  • :O is surprised or a gasp
  • :( is unhappy
  • :'( is really sad or crying
  • :D is a big smile
  • :| is a flat expression for I feel nothing
  • :X is for my lips are sealed
  • O:) is for a happy face with a halo, meaning I'm extra good and happy
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What's the Difference Between an Emoticon and an Emoji?

Emoticon Keyboard
Emoticon Keyboard. Getty Images

The two things are almost the same. Emoji is a Japanese word that translates into English as "e" for "picture" and "moji" for "character". Emoji is a set of emoticons that are built into a cell phone, first provided by Japanese mobile companies as a bonus for their customers. You do not have to use several keyboard strokes to make an emoji, a standardized set of emoji are provided as a menu choice.

According to the Lure of Language blog, "Emojis were first invented by Shigetaka Kurita in the late nineties as a project for Docomo, the predominant mobile phone operator in Japan. Kurita created a complete set of 176 characters different from traditional emoticons that use standard keyboard characters (like Scott Fahlman’s “smiley”), each emoji was designed on a 12×12 pixel grid. In 2010, emojis were encoded in the Unicode Standard allowing them to have widespread use in new computer software and digital technology outside of Japan."

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Your Citation
Bellis, Mary. "Emoticons and Emoji." ThoughtCo, Aug. 4, 2016, thoughtco.com/emoticons-and-emoji-1991412. Bellis, Mary. (2016, August 4). Emoticons and Emoji. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/emoticons-and-emoji-1991412 Bellis, Mary. "Emoticons and Emoji." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/emoticons-and-emoji-1991412 (accessed January 23, 2018).