Smileys, also known as emoticons, are strings of characters intended to show a human face expressing a particular emotion. In online communication, they are mostly used at the end of a sentence, reflecting on that sentence and interpreting it in a certain way. A winking face, for instance, indicates that the preceding sentence ought to be taken with a grain of salt. Given that most online environments are text-based and lack the subtle (and not-so-subtle) cues of body posture, gesture and facial expression that characterize face-to-face communication, smileys try to make up for a shortcoming of the medium in which they occur.
YaBB, a widely used piece of open source bulletin board software, recognizes the following set of smileys by turning them into little graphics:
- :) smiling face
- ;) smiling, winking face
- :D laughing face
- ;D laughing, winking face
- >:( angry face
- :( sad face
- :o astonished face
- 8) cool face (“8” standing for sunglasses)
- ??? confused face
- ::) rolling eyes
- :P tongue sticking out
- :-[ depressed face
- :-X mouth shut
- :-/ undecided face
- :-* kissing face
- :’( crying face
Netlingo offers a much larger list of smileys. I’m not quite sure what to make of this list, however. I don’t hang out in chat rooms and, as noted earlier, I don’t have a cell phone, so I’m unfamiliar with two of the mediums in which smilies seem to occur with the highest frequency. Still, I think the list is far too large and includes items that aren’t in common use at all. What I see in actual day-to-day communication is more or less limited to “:-)” and “;-)”.
In Japanese, a whole raft of smileys are used that differ from their Western counterparts mainly in that you don’t have to tilt your face to view them because they’re right-side-up. They also draw on a much larger set of available characters.
Here’s a list of Japanese smileys put together by Hiroe Takagi.
Which of those do you actually use? Any others?
Technical note: Unlike the majority of Web sites, Tawawa.org uses Unicode, which means that from a technical standpoint it doesn’t matter if you post to this site in Arabic, Russian, Greek, Thai, Japanese or almost any other language you can readily think of: it should all render fine. So feel free to post and discuss smilies that use characters not included in the standard ASCII character set.
When I started hanging around on the Net, I thought smilies were some computer geek’s play. But in no time I found myself using them myself. My favorite ones are (^^; (cold sweat) and (^^ゞ (well, hard to explain…a kind of self-conscious smile, or an embarrassed one) that are peculiar to Japanese ways of communication.
It took me years before I could bring myself to use them. After all, since the dawn of writing, ages and ages ago, writers have developed the art and craft of expressing not only what can be expressed in the written word, but of expressing, in addition, the inexpressible as well — and they seemed to be doing quite well without smilies or, heaven forbid (lol!), chat acronyms, which still make me go, like, WTF?
But once you come to accept that writing online often is a conversational activity that can benefit from a few extra cues, the little suckers may have their place. E-mails with smileys and chat acronyms littered all over the place still set my teeth on edge, however, and I’d advise using them sparingly.
And I still believe that the winkie-winkie smiley ruins a good joke simply because it makes it too obvious. Sometimes, though, it may be a good idea to use one just to play it safe.
The other day I even recommended them in class. The whole subject came up because of the Akinori vs. 202023 scuffle here on Tawawa. As the two gentlemen confirmed offline, the exchange was intended humorously, but it was sufficiently ambiguous for Yukiko-san to take it literally and ask Akinori-san to calm down. Some “only kidding” marker might have prevented the misunderstanding.
Plus: I find the Japanese variety of smileys strangely charming. (^^)
As I’m sure anyone who’s visited my blog can attest: I’m a smiley addict. It’s very rare that I’ll do a post or a comment and not use a smiley :) See?
Although I like the cool look of the japanese smileys, I usually do instinctively keep it American mostly due to MSN Messenger’s support for it I guess.
You make a good point when you point out all the interesting writing without smiley’s done over the course of human history. My lazy excuse/reason, is that I would never in my most egotistical moments compare myself to Dickens or something - so for a layman like me it’s ok to use em :D
I balked at the phrase “keep it American” and decided to find out where these things came from.
I found out two things: first, the accepted spelling is not “smilie” but “smiley”. I used the “smilie” spelling by analogy with commie, hippie and yuppie, but that’s not, apparently, how everyone else sees it, so I corrected the post title and all previous occurrences on this page.
My misspelling, incidentally, also prevented me from finding Anil Dash’s Deadpan Smiley again, which I personally believe to be one of the most significant contributions to the field in recent years.
The other thing I found was that the smiley does seem to be an American thing. According to this CNN Story, an American named Harvey Ball invented the original design in 1963, only for a Frenchman named Franklin Loufrani to snag up trademark protection for it in 1971, much to the chagrin of Mr. Ball. The sideways smiley used in online communication was introduced by Scott E. Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA, on 19 September, 1982. Read more about it in Fahlman’s Smiley Lore.
I had no idea the smiley was important enough to have it’s own ‘lore’, for sure it’s common enough though.
re: keeping it american-
I had no idea when I wrote that, that it was a used phrase..
Came out naturally - sometimes I can’t stop myself :)
oh ya, I’ve also heard that Japanese smilies also came into fruition because of the differing layout of a Japanese keyboard vs an American one. Any truth to this?
Not much. Japanese keyboards mostly have the plain-vanilla U.S. American QWERTY layout.
But written Japanese has a number of complexities that alphabetic languages don’t have. Some Japanese is written in alphabetic characters (known as romaji over here), but for the most part a mixture of three other writing systems is used: kanji, hiragana and katakana. The character sets used in Japanese text encoding support these four writing systems, as well as the Greek and Cyrillic alphabets, numerals, and a number of additional glyphs.
And here’s the difference. The Western smileys emerged when computing was largely limited to the ASCII character set, which doesn’t give you a lot of characters to play around with. In contrast, Japanese smileys draw from the whole range of characters offered by the Japanese character sets: thousands of shapes right there at your fingertips.
Tip for any aspiring Web geek in the house: Hiroe Takagi’s list of Japanese smileys is encoded in a Western character set named iso-8859-1. This made sense a couple of years ago because a traditional Japanese character set (iso-2022-jp, euc-jp, shift-jis) would have forced Western viewers without Japanese language support on their systems to download that language support. To avoid this inconvenience, the page uses graphics for all smileys with characters that are not included in the Western character set. Today, you’d simply use Unicode, a universal character set that supports almost any language on earth and which renders fine in any decent browser.
OIC, thanks for the knowledge. I’ve always appreciated Unicode - much nicer than looking at giberish. Still wondering why modern browsers choose western as the default set when Unicode is better..
Love learning something new everyday :)
btw, is it my imagination or did the color scheme and logo change - looks sweet!
The Tawawa logo is still the same. I simply applied a few strokes of colour to the Zemi Note and Big Tree main page header sections. I also touched up the green background of the English pages since the new Big Tree tree header didn’t go very well with the old green.
I’ve had this idea for some time that the main pages should be visually distinct from the archive pages to create an additional sense of where you are within the site. Then I hit on the idea that a coloured header area might do the trick, but I’m not all that convinced it’s a good solution. It may be a lapse from the minimalist esthetic that went into this design. Or maybe it’s time to redesign the whole place, or at least subdue the colours a bit and go for something less obtrusive. We’ll see.
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