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Q: What is an emoticon?

A: The word "emoticon" is a combination of "emotion" and "icon." Therefore, an emoticon is a small image that represents an emotion. These images can be created using basic keyboard characters, that together form distinct facial expressions. Some common emoticons (or "smileys") include:

  1. :-) (happy)
  2. :-( (sad)
  3. ;-) (winking)
  4. :-D (big grin)
  5. :-O (surprised)
  6. :-P (frustrated)
  7. :-| (indifferent)

Since emoticons can be created with basic text characters, they can be inserted into any message, including online chat, e-mail, and text messaging. Different expressions can help the recipient understand the feelings behind your words. For example, a ;-) face may tell the other person you are being sarcastic, which might help avoid a misunderstanding. A basic :-) face may express a light-hearted feeling, which might prevent the recipient from taking your message too seriously.

Emoticon Shortcuts

While emoticons were initially text-only expressions, graphic emoticons have become increasingly popular. Therefore, many websites and online chat programs now support emoticon shortcuts. These shortcuts turn text emoticons into small graphical icons. For example, typing :) will enter a smiley face icon into the Yahoo! Messenger and Live Messenger programs. You can view a list of shortcuts in the Emoticon Shortcuts section.

Using Emoticons

If you haven't used emoticons a lot, you may want to view the Common Emoticons page to become familiar with the ones most people use. As you browse through the other emoticons, you will find there are plenty of obscure ones that have been created as well. Some of these represent people, characters, objects, animals, and actions. The unconventional emoticons are fun to use in online chat, but you may have to explain to the other person what they are.

Emoticons add an aspect of feeling or emotion to online communication. However, they are best suited for informal messages. Using emoticons in formal emails or other correspondence may be seen as superficial or unprofessional. Therefore, it is best to leave emoticons out of your business e-mails. This may help you avoid feeling :-( and keep you feeling :-).

Updated: October 12, 2011