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Douglas Harper's Etymology Dictionary

by 1994, apparently from emotion + icon.


n. A graphical representation, either in the form of an image or made up of text characters, of a particular emotion of the writer.


n. a representation of a facial expression (as a smile or frown) created by typing a sequence of characters in sending email; ":-( and :-) are emoticons"


An emoticon , (, or ) is a pictorial representation of a facial expression using punctuation marks, numbers and letters, usually written to express a person's feelings or mood.

The word is a portmanteau of emotion and icon, and is an example of metacommunication, serving some of the same purpose as body language or prosody.

In Western countries, emoticons are usually written at a right angle to the direction of the text. Users from Japan popularized a kind of emoticon called kaomoji ( 顔文字; lit. 顔(kao)=face, 文字(moji)=character(s); often confused with emoji in the West) that can be understood without tilting one's head to the left. This style arose on ASCII NET of Japan in 1986.

As social media has become widespread, emoticons have played a significant role in communication through technology, and some devices have provided stylized pictures that do not use punctuation. They offer another range of "tone" and feeling through texting that portrays specific emotions through facial gestures while in the midst of text-based cyber communication.

Usage examples of "emoticon".

She pings a smiley emoticon off Wednesday's open channel, raising a flickering grin in return.

He sent her a complicated burst of emoticons conveying a combination of disgust, weariness, annoyance, and impatience.

He sent her a compli cated burst of emoticons conveying a combination of disgust, weariness, annoyance, and impatience.

The black-framed glasses remind her of emoticons, those snippets of playschool emotional code cobbled up from keyboard symbols to produce sideways cartoon faces.