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Jim Walker: It’s the invasion of the emoticons

Don't Take Me Seriously

Posted: January 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: January 27, 2012 1:55 a.m.

If you’ve only recently come out from under your rock, you may not be familiar with the term “emoticon.” But, even so, you couldn’t have escaped finding a “happy face” or two in some email or text that was sent you in recent years.

That happy face is the best-known and most-used emoticon around. Typed with a colon, followed by a hyphen, followed by a closing parenthesis —  :-) — it makes a sideways face with a smile. Now, you can also leave out the nose, or hyphen, for a short form of the happy face — :) — which seems so much friendlier to me, and is the one my Word program wants to automatically replace with an actual, round happy face character. 

As you might surmise, “emoticon” is a melding of the words “emotion” and “icon,” and while I caught onto the happy face version(s) some time ago, I have only recently become aware of the multitude of these little guys out there in popular use. And there are more showing up all the time.

My real eye-opening began with one sent me by my daughter, which was the colon with a capital P after it — :P — which, upon querying her about, I learned stood for a face sticking its tongue out at me.

Soon after, and probably as a result of her reading one of my more pessimistic columns, I got a colon with a forward slash — :/ — which, I learned, represents a face of concern or worry. (To me, it looks like someone put lipstick on in the dark, but whatever.)

This topic has been keeping me up nights for quite some time now, and so, this week, as a respite from more serious issues, I explore the curious and expanding use of these things, this invasion of the emoticons.

First, a little history: I read that emoticons (before they knew they were emoticons) have been around since the 1800s, and supposedly one was found in an 1862 transcript of an Abraham Lincoln speech, which contained — ;) — which is the equivalent of a winking face today. That being thrown up for debate, I read the :-) emoticon was officially proposed to indicate jokes in 1982, along with :-( to indicate “not jokes.” This latter or its short form — :( — is the “sad face” now.

Let’s break down a few of the cutest of these little buggers.

Emotional: The emotion-related emoticons are probably the most numerous (surprise). In addition to the :), :( and ;) already mentioned, there is :’ — which indicates a smirk, ;;) — which is for flirting by batting the eyelashes, :* is for a kiss and :-X is a big, wet kiss, <3 is a heart and </3 is a broken heart, -.- is annoyed, >.< is eye-crinkling exasperation, >:( and :-Z stand for anger, :’( is for crying and :-@! is for cursing.

Teeth related: Teeth-related emoticons can be fun, as well, with :-E being bucktoothed and :-[ making a vampire.

Animal related: Emoticons can symbolize animals as well, with (^,,^) for kitty-cat, <(-‘.‘-)> for puppy dog and (^^^) for shark.

Miscellaneous: In the miscellaneous category we have :{ for mustache, :-}) for handlebar mustache, 0:) for an angel, 3:) for a princess, /:-) is a Frenchman with a beret, :-& is tongue-tied, :#) is drunk, :---) is Pinocchio, +:-) is a priest, +<:-) is the Pope, (:-D stands for blabbermouth and }(:-( is a toupee blowing in the wind.

I understand that the automatic substitution of typed emoticons with their cartoon versions is expanding all the time, and even includes moving or dancing characters now. In fact, my daughter sent me an email in which a happy face gave a sad face a hug and made it smile. Awww.

I also understand that this sort of thing can get you into trouble if you don’t know how your emoticon will be presented to the person receiving it.

I mean, you don’t want your +<:-) Pope coming alive on the other end as a dancing grand wizard of the KKK.

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