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Computing (FOLDOC) dictionary (also found in English - English (Wordnet), English - Vietnamese)
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/ee-moh'ti-kon/ An ASCII glyph used to indicate an
emotional state in electronic mail or news. Although
originally intended mostly as jokes, emoticons (or some other
explicit humour indication) are virtually required under
certain circumstances in high-volume text-only communication
forums such as Usenet; the lack of verbal and visual cues
can otherwise cause what were intended to be humorous,
sarcastic, ironic, or otherwise non-100%-serious comments to
be badly misinterpreted (not always even by newbies),
resulting in arguments and flame wars.
Hundreds of emoticons have been proposed, but only a few are
in common use. These include:
:-) "smiley face" (for humour, laughter,
friendliness, occasionally sarcasm)
:-( "frowney face" (for sadness, anger, or upset)
;-) "half-smiley" (ha ha only serious); also
known as "semi-smiley" or "winkey face".
:-/ "wry face"
These may become more comprehensible if you tilt your head
sideways, to the left. The first two are by far the most
frequently encountered. Hyphenless forms of them are common
on CompuServe, GEnie, and BIX; see also bixie. On
Usenet, "smiley" is often used as a generic term synonymous
with emoticon, as well as specifically for the happy-face
It appears that the emoticon was invented by one Scott Fahlman
on the CMU bboard systems around 1980. He later wrote: "I
wish I had saved the original post, or at least recorded the
date for posterity, but I had no idea that I was starting
something that would soon pollute all the world's
communication channels." [GLS confirms that he remembers
this original posting].