The Evolution of the Emoticon

In the last 50 years or so we have seen a constant growth of electronic communication, so much so that it is now part of our everyday life. Many Google searches, articles and blogs claim that 1982 brought the innovation of emoticons, or smileys, and today they are used by everybody everyday without much of a thought given to them. According to psychologist Albert Mehrabien 93% of human interaction takes place non-verbally (Jibril & Abdullah, 2013) – body language. The human brain can decrypt body language and images in an instance, whereas language and written texts are decoded in a linear, chronological manner which requires more time to process (Parkinson, 2007). Because electronic communication lacks the face-to-face aspects of ordinary communication, emoticons can be used to aid in the portrayal of the correct emotion within a written electronic message.

“They are an attempt to overcome the lack of facial expressions, gestures and other conventions of body posture which are so critical in expressing personal opinions and attitudes and in moderating social relationships” (Boldea & Norley, 2008)

These days emoticons are often used instead of words to portray how some one is feeling or to portray words through electronic communication. Similar to abbreviated sentences like lol (laughing out loud) or ROFL (rolling on the floor laughing) people have found it easier to just send the laughing emoji- a animated, digital image of an emoticon- when wanting to let you know they find something funny. In 2015 Oxford Dictionaries Tweeted the laughing emoji with tears in its eyes as the word that best reflected the ethos of 2015 (Briggs, 2015).


There are many emojis stored in smartphones and online chat hubs that express many different emotions as well as different sports, hobbies, interests, and even some miscellaneous portrayals of different ideas that the users have found their own meaning to. Making coherent sentences with the use of emojis but without words is a new way for people to express creativity and playfulness. Not alone can this be used for fun between two people in a chat, there is also a new form of art dedicated to emoticons. This emoticon art is a continuous play on the visual aspect of communication (Boldea & Norley, 2008). Examples of this art are:

    :—————)     (Liar)                                          :-|:-|     (Deja Vu)

    ¯\_(ツ)_/¯    (I Don’t Know)                       | (• ◡•)| (❍ᴥ❍ʋ)   (Adventure Time Emoticon)

screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-17-09-48 (Emoji Train)

Screen Shot 2017-02-23 at 17.11.41.png (Emoji Anonymous)

As the use of emoticons and emojis has risen in recent years to everyday use by everybody, is there a fear that they will have an impact on our language and the way we write. Take emails for instance, are emoticons seen as slang? Should they be used in an email context? Will the use of emoticons and emojis disrupt our ability to find the words for own emotions? Will they have an impact on our future abilities to spell and structure sentences? Technology will always bring about change and nobody can predict what changes it can bring to us as a society.