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Memes Emoticons


Emoticons are pictorial representations of facial expressions made with a mix of punctuation marks and letters. They can be used to depict the mood of the author or to influence how the reader interprets the surrounding text.

Emoticons have evolved from from the simple smiley faces (denoted as :-) ) to ones that contain characters from other languages, complex compositions to depict action, and even small graphical images.


The Word

The word emoticon is a blending of the words “emotion” and “icon.” It was added to Urban Dictionary for the first time on October 1, 2002. It has since been defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary and was added to the Oxford English Dictionary as of the June 2001 edition. They note that one of the earliest uses of the word in print was in the New York Times on January 28th, 1990. However, words are used colloquially long before they make it to print.


Using shorthand to express emotion dates back the 19th century and Morse code. The National Telegraphic Review and Operators Guide, published in 1857, stated that sending the number 73 meant “love and kisses.” In a 1904 edition of Dodge’s Manual, 73 had evolved into “best regards” and “love and kisses” was now represented by 88.

Also in the 19th century, American journalist Ambrose Bierce wrote of a way to “improve punctuation” by using a \_/ to “represent a smiling mouth.”

Puck, a humor magazine from the 1800s, published the following instruction on creating faces from typography in 1881:


Smiley Face :-)

Trying to turn letters into pictures (ASCII Art) has been around since as early as 1966. However, trying to convey a comment’s subtext wasn’t recorded until thirteen years later. On April 12th, 1979, ARPANET user Kevin MacKenzie suggested to the MsgGroup mailing list that participants use a “-)” to suggest that a sentence was tongue-in-cheek.

The smiley was first recorded on September 19th, 1982. It was posted by Scott Fahlman to the Carnegie Mellon University computer science general board:
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

Fahlman took credit for inventing the :-) and :-( emoticons on his website and did an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek about it on April 23rd, 2001. In this interview, Fahlman stated that he created them to better understand his peers:
Many in the newsgroup, he found, had caustic senses of humor, but without the benefit of facial expressions or vocal cues to indicate irony, their sarcasm was sometimes mistaken for spite.
Between 1992 and 1994, James Marshall set out to compile a definitive list of smilies. Scoured from Usenet newsgroups and other websites, he hosted the dictionary at his personal website. As of 2008, he had collected 2231 different smileys.

Graphical Smilies

As use of emoticons grew, email and messaging services began to replace typographical smileys with small graphic renderings. AOL introduced a base set of 16 smileys in the 2000s.

By 2007, Yahoo! Messenger had released additional smileys that AOL did not support including rolling on the floor, applause, “talk to the hand,” and nailbiting.

Japanese Smileys

While Western emoticons require the reader to tilt their head sideways, Japanese influenced smileys are read horizontally. These are often referred to as Kaomoji. (~_~) appeared first, dating back to May 1985. Between May and July 1988, a Hokkaido University student saw a Master Koala (^O^) while browsing fj.jokes, inspiring him to create the following:

(^.^) – laughing
(;.;) – crying
(-.-) – sleeping, shocked
; – sweat mark, eg (^.^;)

However, no archived posts exist until January 13th, 1988. On that day, a Usenet member posted a series of Master Koalas to fj.questions.misc.
These evolved as well, mixing with Western alphanumeric characters, yielding emoticons such as T_T and >_<; From there, users on sits like 2chan and 4chan began mixing in characters with accents (õ_o) or characters from languages that do not use the Latin alphabet (囧 and ಠ_ಠ). A collection of these types of textual smileys can be found at Evoticon.

While it is hard to pin down when Japanese picture emoticons, or Emoji, started becoming popular, they were added to Gmail messages on April 29th, 2009. Unicode added Emoji symbols in version 6.0, which came out in October 2010. Many smartphones also now have apps to unlock Emoji keyboards.


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