Emoticons and emojis: a brief introduction to the history and current use in social media dialogue

What is an emoticon?

An emoticon is short for ’emotion icon’ and is a visual representation of a facial expression or body posture to convey mood, attitude or emotion used initially in e-mail and text messages. The most well known is the smiley face. Emoticons can at their most simplest be expressed within text by using a series of punctuation marks (as above) and sometimes letters and special marks.

: – ) or 🙂


Where are they used?

The emoticon has become increasingly popular within texting and social media conversations. Communication via texting, social media, email and other online channels differs to the way we communicate face to face for a number of reasons. One aspect is that computer mediated communication can lack the visual and auditory cues we experience face to face. It can become harder to convey or interpret emotions where communication is just text. The introduction of emoticons can provide visual ‘signals’ of how the user feels without the need to expressly describe this in words.

History of emoticons

You may be forgiven for thinking the emoticon is a modern way to express ourselves. However the use of the emoticon can be traced back to the 19th century. Exemplars of use can be found printed in the 1881 copy of the U.S. magazine Puck (no 212, p65).


Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Mashable have created a short animation that looks at the history of the emoticon and picks up examples of potentially earlier examples.


The Calculator

If you were ever bored in a maths class those old enough may remember using the calculator to create a word to share with the person sat next you, by typing certain combinations of numbers and then turning the calculator’s display upside-down. For example 0.7734 for “hello”.

text trick on calculator

Image source: Wikihow

Using a graphing calculator it is possible to create complex images. Of course these cannot be sent to anyone, only shown. So whilst not strictly emoticons I felt they had a place in how numbers could be appropriated and used to convey a message of sorts – in this case an image.

graphing calculator art

Image souce: Tumblr calculator art

The Emoji

Emoji are picture characters most frequently associated with mobile phone usage in Japan, but now used across the world.  The word emoji comes from the Japanese (e = picture)  (mo = writing)  (ji = character). Below we will look at how both the emoticon and emojis are becoming more common place as options within the mobile phone, blogging dashboards and other social media spaces.


Emoticon and emoji use in Social Media

Over the years the process of using emoticons within text, email and social media has been made easier, allowing the user to simply copy and paste in an emoji, or use the shortcode which then auto converts into a graphic. This takes the emoticon to a new level as the choice available includes such a wide variety of choice. Where the emoticon may express emotions, the emoji also offers objects.

Below are just some examples I have found. There will be more!  You can find the ultimate list of emoticons here ➡  http://cool-smileys.com/text-emoticons


To use the graphic smilies supported at WordPress.com, go to
Settings -> Writing and check the box next to Convert emoticons like 🙂 and 😛 to graphics on display.

In addition to a variety of face emotions, WordPress offer these:

💡 :idea:
🐻 :bear:

You can find out more at ➡   http://en.support.wordpress.com/smilies/


You can add an emoticon to your chat conversation by clicking the smiley face in the lower-right corner of your chat window. If you have other sticker packs downloaded, you may need to scroll to the right to see the emoticons.

The emoticon you select will look like a text emoticon until you hit send, and then it will appear as the image. For example: if you choose a smiley face, it will appear in your text box as 🙂 until you hit send. Then, it will appear in the chat as.

You can also send stickers by clicking the smiley face.


Twitter symbols offers a selection which you can copy and paste directly into a tweet

Symbols to ad to tweets



Skype offer a list of emoticons where you can either type the shortcode of the emoticon you want to use directly in the chat or mood message window, or you can select them from the emoticon palette. Some examples are:

Icon Name Shortcodes
  Smile 🙂 :=) 🙂
  Sad 😦 :=( 😦
  Laugh 😀 :=D 😀 :d :=d :-d
  Cool 8=) 😎 B=) B-) (cool)

Get Emoji website

Get emoji has a website offering a wide variety to choose from and include faces, animals, objects, plants, places and more! All emojis below are supported in iOS, Android, OS X and Windows 7+. Copy and paste emoji to use on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr and more. You can view all emoji meanings on Emojipedia.


More emoticons!

Characters Expression and Icon
🙂 smile
:-] smile or blank
😐 blank
:-[ blank or sad
😦 sad
😉 wink
:-/ or :/ wry
😮 dazed
:-O gape
😀 grin  😃
:-& tongue-tied
:’-) tear of joy
:’-( tear of beauty
:`-( tear of sadness
X-D laugh
:-X scowl
8-X skull
K-0 wince
:-p stuck out tongue
=O surprised
O:-) innocent
>:-) devilish
%-p lunatic
:@) a pig
ó¿ò quizzical or unhappy
ô¿ô intellectual or manager
°¿° stoned or babyish
©¿© dazzled or thick lenses
‘¿’ tiny eyes
?:-) wavy haired smile
?:~) wavy haired smile with broken nose
?8-) wavy haired intellectual glasses smile
8^) intellectual glasses smile
B-) cool sunglasses smile
=D mini happy face
😐 mini blank or frown
=) mini smile
=.= closed-eyed smile
^_^ happy or contented smile
^_- winking smile
^_~ winking smile
¬_¬ irritated or wry
>_< confused or embarrassed
o_o surprised
O.O shocked
o.O sarcastic
‘-‘ apathetic
x_x stoned/dead
\m/><\m/ rock on
ಠ_ಠ “look of disapproval”
:* kiss
9_9 rolling eyes
QQ crying eyes
Source: Wikipedia


smiley face

Image source: Pixabay

About Sue Beckingham

A National Teaching Fellow, Educational Developer and Principal Lecturer in Computing with a research interest in the use of social media in higher education.
This entry was posted in Communication tools and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Emoticons and emojis: a brief introduction to the history and current use in social media dialogue

  1. Hello,

    thanks for so nice Emoji presentation! We have just launched our new project which is dedicated for all Emoji symbols to copy and paste. Please share with your readers if you think it will bring value to them.


  2. Pingback: Does ‘Emoji’ equate to emotion? | newtechnocomm

  3. Pingback: Using Emoji with Social Media – Eagle Strategies Class Blog

  4. Pingback: Future Predictions – Charlene Jardim

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