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The Smiley Face and Other Text Emoticon Symbols

Smiley faces are used in text-based communications to convey a facial expression or emotion. In this Webopedia chat guide, we'll show you how to read smiley faces and how to make your own.


Smiley Faces MeaningSmiley faces (also called a smiley or emoticon) is ordinary characters used in text-based communications to  represent a human facial expression to convey emotion, much in the same way we use facial expressions and different voice tones when we communicate face-to-face with people.

Using a Text Smiley Face in Chat Messages

In the same way that a person's voice or facial expression changes when having a conversation with someone, a smiley face is used in online chat and text messages to achieve the same result. It lets people know if you are smiling, laughing or not very happy with the conversation.

For example, if you were joking with someone and sent a text message saying GAL (meaning "get a life") the person receiving the message might think you are making a rude comment. If you send the same message with a happy smiley face symbol : )  the person would take that to mean you were smiling when you sent the message and know you were joking with them. In a face-to-face communication you would laugh or really smile to convey the "I'm joking around or kidding with you" emotion.

A simple text smiley face allows you to show emotion and will help others interpret your intent and meaning.

The First Smiley Face Symbol

Smiley Face SymbolThe idea and first use of a text smiley face is credited to Scott Elliott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. He thought using smile and frown text symbols would help message board users distinguish between serious posts and jokes. The message detailing the use of the smiley emoticons was posted in September, 1982. In this article, Smiley Lore :-), Fahlman describes why he felt there was a need to mark posts that contributors did not intend to be taken seriously by others reading the message board:

"This problem caused some of us to suggest (only half seriously) that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously. After all, when using text-based online communication, we lack the body language or tone-of-voice cues that convey this information when we talk in person or on the phone. Various "joke markers" were suggested, and in the midst of that discussion it occurred to me that the character sequence :-) would be an elegant solution – one that could be handled by the ASCII-based computer terminals of the day."

How to Make Smiley Face Text

To create a text smiley face you use standard keyboard characters and punctuation marks in sequences that look like human facial expressions. Smiley face text are all sideways. Here are some basics to get you started with understanding what different characters used in smiley faces mean:

Smiley Faces and Their Meaning

Over time the basic smiley face was adapted to suit a whole range of emotions, and people started creating different symbols to represent ideas and feelings: For example, you could text a rose to your friends @-}---.

Here are few examples of different smiley faces and their meanings. Remember, each smiley face or symbol is sideways.

Smiley Face Symbol



Standard smile


With nose


Buck-tooth or Vampire


Evil grin


Sad or frown smile


Sad with nose


Super sad


Sticking tongue out (raspberry)

:-O Surprised
:-* Kissing
:-@ Angry
:-$ Confused
:-\ Shifty
:-# Don't tell/secret




Kiss on the lips


One eyebrow raised


A broken nose


tongue tied


a Ham radio operator




Big grin happy


Couple kissing






Rolling your eyes

:-! "Foot in mouth"
:-D Laughter
:*) Drunk smile
:@ Exclamation "What???"
:-@ Scream
:-0 Yell
:-----) Long nose (Liar!)
%-( Confused
:-.) Madonna


Put your money where your mouth is
(:I An egghead
|-O Yawning
:@) Pig smile
<(-_-)> Robot
d[-_-]b DJ with headphones
~:0 Baby
-@--@- Eyeglasses
\VVV/ King
\%%%/ Queen
:-# With braces
:'-) Happy Crying
{:-) Toupee smile
;) Winking smile
;-) Winking smile with nose
O:-) I'm an angel (boy)
O*-) I'm an angel (girl)
|-O Yawn
(:-D Gossip, blabbermouth
@>--;-- Rose
@-}--- Rose
=^.^= Cat
O.o Confused
~( 8^(I) Homer Simpson

From Text Smiley Faces to Graphical Emoticons

Some chat and instant message programs will automatically translate text smiley faces into graphical emoticons. The word emoticon is defined as a pictorial representation of a facial expression. Many smartphones and online chat apps, like Facebook chat and AOL Instant messenger (AIM) offer this feature. For example, if you type out the characters to make a "happy face" followed by "sad face" followed by "cool sunglasses" you would enter the following characters:

:)   :(   8-)

Once you've entered the text in to your AIM chat window and hit enter to send the text message, AIM converts the text smiley face into a pictorial smiley face (emoticon) if it can recognize the smiley pattern. What you see on the screen in your AIM chat window will look like this:

Smiley Face Emoticons

In Facebook chat, typing the characters for a smiley face will automatically convert the text smiley to a graphical emoticon. Facebook also offers a click menu in chat windows where you can select from a number of different smiley face images to use in your chat window.

Facebook Smiley Faces

Related Webopedia.com Guides

1. Text Message Abbreviations
Smiley Faces and Emoticons
3. Online Auction and Classified Ad abbreviations
4. Online Personals Abbreviations
5. Twitter Chat Dictionary
6. Guide to Forum Etiquette
7. How to Text a Cellphone From a Computer

Based in Nova Scotia, Vangie Beal is has been writing about technology for more than a decade. She is a frequent contributor to EcommerceGuide and managing editor at Webopedia. You can tweet her online @AuroraGG.

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