Menu 0800 049 6190

Knowledge Vault Technology news, reviews, guides & advice, written by our Agents

Geek Squad's guide to emoticons

Emoticons and emojis have changed the way we communicate online and in text messages. Originally intended as a way to distinguish a joke email from a serious one, emoticon usage quickly spread around the globe – and is now one of the quickest ways of expressing thoughts, reactions and emotions over a distance.

The explosion of the internet, social media and smartphones has made communication faster and easier than ever before. And as we've found quicker ways of getting in touch with one another, we've also found ways to speed up the conversations we have!

Emoticons – the use of punctuation to create ‘facial expressions’, adding mood, tone and feeling to written conversations – has become an integral part of online communication.

Whether we're using email, texts or instant messengers like Skype, emoticons are used to give a voice to the things that can otherwise get lost in cyber translation – such as sarcasm, irony and humour. But how did it all begin?

emoji wallpaper

The birth of emoticons

Believe it or not, the very first examples of emoticons can be traced back to the 19th century, when they were used in humorous writing or casual letters between friends. But it wasn’t until the early 1980s that digital emoticons started to be used on the internet.

Scott Fahlman, an MIT graduate, is credited with the mainstream use of emoticons after posting a short comment on a BBS (or Bulletin Board System) on the 19th of September 1982: "I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-). Read it sideways."

Soon, the use of emoticons became widespread on chat rooms, web forums and instant messengers, providing a quick and easily understood way of adding ‘tone of voice’ to online exchanges.

We can usually judge another person’s mood in regular conversations through things like body language, expression and tone of voice. But when we can't see body language or expressions, it can be difficult to know whether someone's being sarcastic or serious!

Emoticons are a great digital substitute for those kind of expressions – and because they're tiny in size, they can be used pretty much anywhere.

Common emoticons

There are a many different emoticons being used throughout the virtual world, and plenty of variations along the way.

Interestingly, different countries use emoticons or emojis in different ways: in Japan, it’s common to use (^_^) for ‘happy’, whereas in Brazil they often use >D to represent the same expression.

Here’s a look at some of the most common emoticons used today:

Meaning Emoticon
Happy :) or :-)
Sad :( or :-(
Wink ;) or ;-)
Grin :D or :-D
Silly / Joking :P or ;P
Dislike :S
Ambivalence :/

This is only the tip of the iceberg, however – new and altered emoticons are being created all the time!

The emojis of the future?

android emojis 1With the development of smartphones, we soon realised we didn't need to be constrained by smiley faces made from text any more. Animated emojis gained popularity as soon as we could break away from MMS charges – and smartphones were quick to add emoji support to most messaging apps.

Emojis are animated faces and symbols, much better suited at conveying emotions, feelings and sentiments than text-based emoticons.

Another great benefit that emojis have over emoticons is that they're nearly all unified – meaning you'll see the same emoji on your Samsung smartphone as you would on your Sony. Unfortunately there are still some minor differences between iPhone and Android emojis, but the emotions are still the same.

apple emojis 1Emojis are constantly evolving, and new ones are added all the time to meet demand. Recently we've seen the sceptical 'raised eyebrow' and the 'facepalm' added to the emoji lists – and this got us thinking what other emojis and emoticons should exist, but don’t already:

  • Irony. There’s been a long-running debate about how this very British form of humour can be represented in symbol-form. Some linguists have even called for an ‘irony mark’ to be used like a full stop or comma every time a sarcastic wisecrack is made. For now, we can generally make do with ;) to indicate a tongue-in-cheek remark – but will we see irony get its own emoticon in the future?
  • android emojis 2Hungry/thirsty. Given how completely universal these urges are, it’s odd that there aren’t any emoticons around yet to represent them. Perhaps a drooling face grabbing for a cheeseburger or a dispirited-looking smiley with an empty glass might do the trick?
  • Humility. The internet’s not generally known for being a humble place, but that perhaps makes an emoticon for expressing genuine modesty and selflessness all the more important. An embarrassed face with an ‘ahhh, it’s nothing!’ expression, maybe?
  • Apology. Despite the common use of emoticons, it’s still all-too-easy for things to get misinterpreted and meanings confused in online conversation. So surely an emoticon to apologise is long overdue, perhaps in the form of a head-in-hands or bitten lip?

Do you have a favourite emoji? Is there an emoticon you think should exist already but doesn’t? Let us know by leaving a comment below!

Was this article helpful? Yes   No Thanks for your feedback!

Please take a look at our community guidelines.