Unlike in-person or webcam conversations, online chatting or emails do not give participants the opportunity to show their emotions with facial expressions. However, it is possible to combine some letters and symbols of a standard computer keyboard to create depictions of the human face. Even though these "emoticons" (a mix of the words emotion and icons) are not perfectly accurate, they can help your interlocutor understand your mood, especially if you're using programs such as MSN Messenger and Facebook's chat application that allow smileys (small cartoon-like faces).
Type the eyes first, by typing the colon ":". All emoticons are a depiction of the human face, rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise. The equal sign (=) is also acceptable as "eyes," but applications allowing graphic smileys do not recognize it as such.
Press the lower-case "o" key, the dash "-" or the number "0" for the nose. If your intention is to make a graphic smiley appear, omit the nose part altogether.
Finish the "head" by adding the mouth. The key you must press varies according to your expression: the letter "P" means you are joking (:P); the letter "S" shows you are confused (:S); the letter "O" reveals surprise (:O). Parentheses are used to help you express your happiness and sadness.
Try variations including the blink (;)), the weeping face (:'() or the angry face (:@). Consult Netlingo for the most commonly used emoticons (See Resources). Remember that readers unfamiliar with such emoticons can have a hard time "decoding" them, unless they are offered as smileys by the application.
Tips & Warnings
- Computer users around the world don't use the same key combinations to make facial symbols. For example, Asian users prefer "anime-style" emoticons, such as (^_^) for smiling.
- Abbreviations, such as lol (loughing out loud) and rofl (rolling on the floor laughing) are not emoticons, but typing them results in the appearance of animated smileys in applications, such as MSN and Yahoo! Messenger.
- These expressions are only suitable for informal chats. Do not use them in any way in a formal message or letter.
- Photo Credit Jupiterimages/Polka Dot/Getty Images
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