The term emoticon comes from "emotion and icon" and refers to facial expressions represented by keyboard characters. For example, the emoticon :-) represents a happy face and :-( represents a sad face. By inserting an emoticon into a message, you can help the recipient better understand the feeling you want to get across.

While most emoticons represent expressions, they have branched out to symbolize many other things, such as people, animals, objects, and actions. Some emoticons are meant to be read left-to-right, while others are displayed vertically. Below are examples of different types of emoticons:

  • :-D - very happy
  • o.O - confused
  • =^.^= - cat
  • :o3 - dog
  • *<:o) - clown
  • C[_] - coffee cup
  • T.T - crying

"Kaomoji" emoticons, which originated in Japan, use Japanese symbols and uncommon characters to create unique emoticons. For example, the emoticon =( ^o^)ノ___o represents a person throwing a bowling ball. The "flipping table" emoticon (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ can be used to say you are really upset.

The popularity of text-based emotions led to the creation of actual icons or "emojis." Emojis (which are sometimes called emoticons) are now part of the standard character set in most mobile and desktop operating systems. This means you can insert actual smiley faces (or other expressions) instead of using a string of characters. For example, you can insert a ❤️ instead of using the text-based <3 emoticon.

NOTE: If you want to have good netiquette, it's best to avoid using emoticons in formal communication. However, it's fine (and rather common) to use emoticons in text messages, informal emails, and on social media websites.

Updated November 3, 2014 by Per C.

quizTest Your Knowledge

Amazon.com is an example of what type of website?

Correct! Incorrect!     View the E-commerce definition.
More Quizzes →

The Tech Terms Computer Dictionary

The definition of Emoticon on this page is an original definition written by the TechTerms.com team. If you would like to reference this page or cite this definition, please use the green citation links above.

The goal of TechTerms.com is to explain computer terminology in a way that is easy to understand. We strive for simplicity and accuracy with every definition we publish. If you have feedback about this definition or would like to suggest a new technical term, please contact us.

Sign up for the free TechTerms Newsletter

How often would you like to receive an email?

You can unsubscribe or change your frequency setting at any time using the links available in each email.

Questions? Please contact us.