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Emoticons and Smileys 101

An Introduction to 21st Century Hieroglyphs


Hand using emoticon keyboard
Dimitri Otis/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images
July, 2014

Emoticons are "emotional icons" for messaging. Also known as "smileys", these modern-day glyph shapes are used to add emotion and style to email. Emoticons, when used well, can add the subtleties of vocal inflection, facial expression, and body language to a written note.

Emoticon use is actually quite simple: you type simple keyboard characters and view the majority of these shapes sideways. It is particularly useful when the mood of your written message could be easily misconstrued.

Example 1a:
Yeah, but you're never on time, anyways.

Example 1b:
Yeah, but you're never on time, anyways. ;-)

Notice above how example 1a has an ambiguous mood, and could easily be taken as a cutting remark. Example 1b, however, conveys a warmth and jokingness by simply adding the three emoticon characters for winking: ;-)

Here is another emoticon example:

Example 2a:
I'm looking forward to Friday night.

Example 2b:
I'm looking forward to Friday night. @>--->----

Example 2a is strictly a statement. Example 2b, with the rose flower emoticon, is a statement with innuendo. Definitely more romance factor with example 2b! Emoticon "smileys" are not for all correspondences, especially not for professional business documents. Emoticons, however, are very common in personal emails in an informal setting, or in chatrooms and online discussion forums.

Click here for an exhaustive list of Internet emoticons and smileys...

Related article: Internet Shorthand

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