Guide to Emoticons

Emoticons are short strings of punctuation intended to express emotions in type written text. Text can be a very antiseptic way of communicating and without the ability to see the facial expressions of the person you are talking to, it can sometimes be difficult to correctly interpret the meaning of what they are saying.

Note: Screen reader users may wish to set punctuation levels to ‘All’.

A punctuation mark is used to represent the eyes, another for the nose and another for the mouth. They are entered along the line of text in that order and the idea is for the viewer to tip their head over onto their left shoulder, so that the punctuation becomes a face.


Becomes a face with eyes, nose and smiling mouth.

It has been argued that if proper expressive language were used, emoticons wouldn’t be nescessary and in some media this is absolutely correct. But what opponents of emoticons don’t take into account is that electronic communication is more akin to verbal communication than it is to written.

With written work there is time and room to describe and explain events or behaviour, but electronic communication is quick and dirty and doesn’t permit time and space to offer in depth descriptions of very much at all.


History recalls that the first emoticon was posted to a Carnegie Mellon University bulletin board on September 19 1982, by Scott E. Fahlman.

propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: ๐Ÿ™‚ Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are not jokes, given current trends. For this, use ๐Ÿ™

For Fahlman’s own view of how it all began, take a look at his page on
Smiley Lore.

Types of Emoticon

In the nearly three decades since the first emoticon was suggested, their scale and complexity have grown to become something close to an art form. Applications such as microsoft’s Windows Messenger have the capability to turn the strings of punctuation into minature graphics, but this does sort of miss the point of emoticons in the first place.

The tables below provide a longhand description and a verbal description for each of the most commonly used emoticons.

Common Emoticons

Despite the fantastic range of emoticons now in existence, only a few basic ones form the core of expressions used.

Table of Common Emoticons
Emoticon Longhand Description Verbal Description
๐Ÿ™‚ Colon, Hyphen, Right Paren Smile
๐Ÿ™ Colon, Hyphen, Left Paren Sad Smile
๐Ÿ˜‰ Semi Colon, Hyphen, Right Paren Winking Smile
:-> Colon, Hyphen, Greater Grin
๐Ÿ˜› Colon, Hyphen, Capital P Poke Tongue
:-/ Colon, Hyphen, Slash Frown
๐Ÿ˜ Colon, Hyphen, Vertical Bar Stern Face
:-1 Colon, Hyphen, Number 1 Smirk
๐Ÿ˜€ Colon, Hyphen, Capital D Big Smile

Many people choose to use different punctuation marks to represent the nose. You may see the above emoticons used with a lower case o, as a nose, or you may find that people forget the nose entirely, leaving just the eyes and mouth instead.

Different Emoticons

The fun does not stop there. Emoticons have been created to represent a wide variety of expressions and even characterisations.

As communication becomes quicker and more minimalist, the need for greater expression in a smaller number of keystrokes has become widespread.

Table of Less Common Emoticons
Emoticon Longhand Description Verbal Description
%*} Percent, Star, Right Brace Very Drunk
:-* Colon, Hyphen, Star Kiss
‘:-) Apostrophe, Colon, Hyphen, Right Paren Sarcastically raised Eyebrow
:-O Colon, Hyphen, Capital O Surprised
:’-( Colon, Apostrophe, Hyphen, Left Paren Crying

Descriptive Emoticons

Emoticons are also used to describe the way a person looks, particularly their facial features.

Table of Descriptive Emoticons
Emoticon Longhand Description Verbal Description
:-{) Colon, Hyphen, Left Brace, Right Paren Wears a Moustache
:-)> Colon, Hyphen, Right Paren, Greater Wears a Beard
%-) Percent, Hyphen, Right Paren Wearing Spectacles
&:-| Ampersand, Colon, Hyphen, Vertical Bar Bad Hair Day
(:-) Left Paren, Colon, Hyphen, Right Paren Bald Head

Character Emoticons

It is even possible to portray different characters using emoticons. These are often used in chat rooms to express a person’s character.

Table of Character Emoticons
Emoticon Longhand Description Verbal Description
O:-) Capital O, Colon, Hyphen, Right Paren Angel Face
>:-> Greater, Colon, Hyphen, Greater Devil Face
8=X Number 8, Equals, Capital X Skull and Cross Bones
(P-| Left Paren, Capital P, Hyphen, Vertical Bar Star Trek Borg
:-[ Colon, Hyphen, Left Bracket Vampire
<:+D Less, Colon, Plus, Capital D Clown

Using Emoticons

When you first start using emoticons it’s tempting to add one to every sentence, but as you become more accustomed to highlighting your messages with them you’ll settle into a regular pattern.

A good rule of thumb is to use only one emoticon in any paragraph and no more than three or four in a message, depending on its length.

Be the first to comment…

Comment on this post

Sorry, comments have been closed.