It can be very difficult to communicate feelings online. When you communicate face-to-face, the person you are talking to get's a lot more information than JUST your words! They also hear your tone of voice, see your facial expression, and pick up on your body-language. Online, all they get is the words you're speaking without all the non-verbal stuff. This can make it hard to tell if something is being said as a joke, sarcastically, or to be downright mean! Part of communicating clearly is helping your reader understand the emotions you are conveying with your words.

The following ideas came from an article on, and the full version is available at ...but I cut out some parts and rewrote part of it in my own words to make it more understandable for you.

The word emoticon is a combination of the words emotion and icon. Emoticons are used online to covey intonation or voice inflection, bodily gestures and emotion behind statements that might otherwise be misinterpreted.
The most common emoticon is a smiley face, made with the colon for eyes, and the left parenthesis as the smile, viewed at a 90-degree angle. :)
Sometimes a dash is used between the eyes and mouth to indicate a nose. :-)

This emoticon is normally used to convey lightheartedness, happiness, or joking. To see the difference an emoticon can make, just look at the following two statements:
Yeah, James, you looked like a real geek.
Yeah, James, you looked like a real geek. :)

Whether or not James would consider a being a "geek" a badge of honor or an insult, the first statement without the emoticon looks like it is surely intended to be an insult. The second statement, however, with its smiling face is very clearly intended to be taken in a playful manner and is not likely to cause offense.
Emoticons play an important part in online communication because the vast majority of people communicating have never met and do not know each other well, if at all. Misinterpretation of intentions is all too easy, minus the facial expressions and verbal inflections that face-to-face communication affords.
With the popularity of the smiley emoticon other emoticons quickly followed. Sometimes an emoticon will become popular in a particular newsgroup or Web group, but will not be known outside that group. Other emoticons have become part of the international language of the Internet.

A few common emoticons include:







mischievous grin


smirking or confused


smiling and sticking out your tongue


laughing hard



The smile and frown emoticons were first suggested by computer scientist Scott Fahlman on 19 September 1982. Fahlman's post, to a Carnegie Mellon University message board, was pulled from the archives on 10 September 2002 to settle the long-standing rumor that they originated with him. Some believe emoticons were also used earlier by other people. In any case it seems clear they were bound to be part of the way we communicate online.

Along the same lines there are other shortcuts for relaying emotions: <g>grin, <G> big grin, and <VBG> = very big grin! A few other acronyms commonly seen online hand-in-hand with emoticons are:
  • LOL laughing out loud
  • ROTFL rolling on the floor laughing
  • BFN bye for now
  • TTYL talk to you later
  • IMO in my opinion
  • IMHO in my humble opinion
  • IMNSHO in my not so humble opinion
  • IIRC if I recall correctly
  • IAC in any case
  • OTOH on the other hand
  • FWIW for what it's worth
  • HTH hope that helps

Emoticons and acronyms are part of Internet lingo and are evolving even as the Internet evolves. And while this fascinating medium that has brought together total strangers from around the globe continues to enlighten, delight and educate us, emoticons will be there like little ambassadors helping to make our intentions clear!

Some other emoticons that are becoming more common come from Asian cultures. Here are a few:

Surprised, confused
Dizzy, crazy

Did you notice how many of the American emoticons deal with changing the mouth, while many of the Asian emoticons deal with changing the eyes? That's an interesting difference of culture!

The Summary:

Emoticons help convey emotion and make your message clearer.

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