Dec 04

This article was written by José M. Aguilar in Spanish on his excellent blog Variable Not Found, and was translated, edited and republished here by Timm Martin (and Google Translator) with permission from Mr. Aguilar.  This is Part 2 of the article (click here for Part 1).

4.  Body Emoticons and Other Extensions

Although emoticons were created to simulate facial gestures, there is an interesting variation that simulates complete bodies which, in the same way, can convey emotional content.  For example, the following emoticons represent a person kneeling or bowing.  Usually the letter combination “or” appears as the head, followed by the body, an arm in the soil, and finally the legs bent:

orz, _| ̄|○, OTL Or2, Orz, On_, OTZ, O7Z, Sto, Jto, _no

The emotions these body symbols convey varies depending on the writer’s culture.  In Japan, they are often used to express failure or despair.  However in China, they often represent admiration for the achievement of a goal.  Then there are those cultures that use them to show extreme humor (“squirm with laughter”).

There are many more examples, and some are works of art: postures, portraits of celebrities, objects, etc.  In fact, some of them might be better described as ASCII art than emoticons, as they do not emit emotions but rather are just textual ornaments.  For example:


O-&-< Person with arms folded
~~~~/~~~~ Person drowning
(:-))-|-< Full body
X=(;-))-|8-<= Girlfriend


( 8^(l) Homer Simpson
=:o] Bill Clinton
@:-() Elvis Presley


@>+-+– A rose
<‘)))))><< A fish

The Smiley Canonical List has 2,227 emoticons of this type.

5.  Lefties Emoticons

Be Lefty, my friend Although it’s standard practice to read emoticons in the Western world by turning your head to the left, there is a reverse variation in which the icons are read by turning your head toward the right (-:  This variation is not used too often since it can cause confusion among readers who are accustomed to the usual orientation.

6.  Asian Emoticons

In Japan in 1986, a new family of emoticons emerged and quickly became popular among east Asian countries.  The two main differences from western emoticons are:  1) The Asian emoticons can be understood easily without turning your head to the side, and 2) The emotion is often represented by choosing different characters for the eyes instead of the mouth.

Japanese keyboardSome simple examples (more):

(^_^) Smiling
(T_T) Crying
(o_#) Bruised Eye
(O_O) Surprised
(~o~) Yawning

There are other emoticons that make use of special characters that you must have installed on your computer:

Launching a Surik Launching a Surik
Salud! Salud!

Here are many more, but you need to install the Japanese language pack on your computer to see them.

7.  Emoticons … Patent?

E. L. Kersten In 2000, the company Despair attempted to trademark the unhappy emoticon 🙁 in the United States.  Soon after, in January 2001, the company issued a press release announcing it would take legal action against all Internet users who used this symbol in their email messages and had already filed 7 million individual complaints.

In fact, this was all a big joke, a publicity stunt to draw attention to its company, which sells artwork with humorous messages.  Even the director of the company, Edward Lawrence Kersten, indicated he was changing his name to 🙁 because “he wanted his name to symbolize the unhappiness.”

However, not everyone got the joke, and this stunt generated a huge uproar worldwide that accused the company of wanting to own a universal property.  So much so that a month later the company issued another press release which stated — in a jocular tone — that it would allow the global Internet community to legally use the smiley, provided that users purchased the smiley (sold on the company’s web site under the trade name Frownies™ ) and agreed to an end-user license.

Despair employee of trying to create a FrownieOf course it cannot be denied that the people of Despair have a sense of humor.  For a limited time, it’s possible to buy an original manufactured edition of the Frownie (the classic edition) for zero dollars, an unbeatable offer ;-).  And by the way, it’s worth noting that Despair ran into manufacturing problems with their Frownies.  In addition to having the sole legal copy of Microsoft Word, the Frownie developer Dane also has acute dyslexia.  This led to a sub-optimal manufacturing process with a 30% failure rate.  Most commonly, the Frownies were missing a nose.

It is also known that emoticons 🙂 and 🙂 are registered in Finland.  Equally controversial are other related patents, such as those made by Cingular in 2006 for use in mobile phones, or the patent application from Microsoft on how to create and transmit custom emoticons.

8.  Developers and Accessibility

From the standpoint of accessibility, a smiley is just like any other non-textual element, so it must be given special attention to ensure universal access to information.  The WCAG 1.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) lists as priority level 1 the need to provide a text equivalent for every non-textual content, including specifically, emoticons and ASCII art.

For example, the automated test Web Accessibility Checker lists as a problem the excessive use of emoticons, or the failure to surround them between tags as follows:

<abbr title="Smile Emoticon">:-)</abbr>

What about the future?

Today text-based emoticons are being replaced by graphics, animations and even sounds.  Widely-used applications such as word processors and IM clients automatically convert text emoticons to graphics and often include shortcuts and buttons to insert emoticons into a document.  Hence it is likely that in a few years, text emoticons will exist only in the nostalgic stories of computer veterans.  But the concept of adding emotional content to written messages will likely persist forever, whatever its form.

Long live the smiley!


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Article published on December 4, 2008

2 Responses to “8 Curiosities You May Not Know About Emoticons ;-) — Part 2”

  1. emoticon msn Says:

    Ahahahah very nice …

    ( 8^(l)

    <3 hearth
    *_* stunned

  2. LionGirl 999 Says:

    What about this one …….


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