Decoding Emoticons (?_?)


by Jackie Enzmann

At some point in history, someone somewhere placed a colon next to an end parenthesis, took a creative leap and saw : ) a smiling face. However, precisely who was responsible for stringing those first few symbols together to create what are now called emoticons is still hotly contested.

Some historians believe that back in 1862, a sly typesetter slipped a winking smile into a speech transcript of American president Abraham Lincoln (though whether this was intentional or merely an oversight is still up for debate ; ). Others claim that the first emoticon didn’t appear until 1982, when an American professor created the now ubiquitous :- ) smiley face.

In Japan, variations of early emoticons called kao-moji began popping up in the late 1980s. Kao-moji, unlike their sideways cousins, incorporated elements from Western and Japanese typography to make faces that save viewers the trouble of tilting their heads (*_*). The use of kao-moji caught on and inspired the creation of increasingly complex variations of those first few simple faces.

Now, at a time when texts and emails are perhaps just as common as face-to-face conversations, emoticons are unavoidable. However, for anyone unfamiliar with the Japanese style of kao-moji, a quick glance through the emoticon library available on any Japanese cell phone can leave the casual texter puzzled over whether a face is happy, sad, angry, or not even a face at all. To help anyone use Japanese emoticons like a pro, here is a quick reference guide containing a selection of emoticons translated into a medium that hopefully everyone can understand.





I give up.



I’m sorry.


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