Emoticon meanings

Updated April 17, 2017

Emoticons are small pictures that can add an extra dimension to text-based communication like instant messaging, e-mail and message boards. They can be graphical images or strings of text that, when viewed a certain way, represent a facial expression or symbol such as a flower, vehicle or animal. Western-style emoticons are read vertically, while Asian style emoticons are read horizontally. Some sites or applications have software that automatically converts text strings to emoticons. Since meanings are not always immediately obvious, an emoticon cheat sheet may prove helpful.

Western-Style Smiley Faces

Most Western-style emoticons are read vertically or sideways. They're usually typed with the top (eyes or sometimes a hat) on the left, but backward or left-handed smileys are also possible. Familiar examples include :-) or :) for a smiling face and :-( for a frown. The Equals sign is sometimes used for eyes: =). Glasses are added with a figure eight or capital B; the 8 stands for conventional glasses and the B for sunglasses. Variations are almost endless and can include winking ;-), smoking :-! or sticking out your tongue :-p.

Objects and Symbols

In addition to facial expressions, emoticons can include objects or symbols. One popular symbol is a heart made with a "less than" sign and a number three: <3. Add a slash and it becomes a broken heart: </3. You can use roses made with an @ sign, dashes and other punctuation marks for a decorative touch or to indicate romance. For example: --,--'--@ or --<--<--<@ or --'--,--'--{@.

Hugs can be indicated by several empty parentheses or brackets, with the word hug or the person's name inside: ((( ))) or (hug) or (((Jennifer))). Parentheses are often used, but sometimes square or curly brackets are used as well.

Asterisks around a verb indicate an action associated with an emotional reaction; examples are grins or ducks.

Asian-style Emoticons

Asian-style emoticons are employed primarily by Asian users, but Westerners with a fondness for Asian culture use them as well. Asian-style emoticons are read horizontally and more likely to use special characters that may not always display correctly. Examples include (^^) for a smiling face, (Tot) for tearfulness or (^v^) for laughing. Tears or perspiration may be indicated with a semicolon, as in the emoticon for anxiety: (^^;). Apology is denoted by a bowing emoticon: m( )m.

Graphic Emoticons

Graphical emoticons have the advantage of being easier to recognise than those created with keyboard symbols. Some message board and chat software contains code to automatically detect emoticon character strings and display a small graphic instead. These are sometimes animated. Some sites offer free smiley sets for e-mail and messenger services, but these typically don't display unless both parties have them. Emoticon graphics can also be added by linking to a graphic hosted (stored on webspace) elsewhere. To do this, you would add a small piece of HTML code with the emoticon filename on the site where you want the emoticon to appear.

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About the Author

Clare Edwards has been providing Internet content since 1998. She has written and translated for a variety of markets: everything from technical articles to short fiction and essays on alternative spirituality. She holds a certificate of higher education in electronics and audio arts from Middlesex University.