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An emoticon, also called a smiley (or smiley faces), is a sequence of ordinary printable ASCII characters, such as :-), ;o), ^_^ or :-(, or a small image, intended to represent a human facial expression and convey an emotion. Emoticons are a form of paralanguage commonly used in e-mail messages, in online bulletin boards, online forums, instant messengers, or in chat rooms, or even use smileys for notes - without them simple statements could be misinterpreted. Sometime during 1981, Scott Fahlman (now a Principle Research Scientist in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University), devised a scheme for encoding and conveying one's feelings in small text "glyphs" to overcome this frustration.

The word emoticon is a portmanteau which popular etymology bases on emotion and icon. In truth, the second element is con, short for console[citation needed] , not icon. A similar portmanteau, verticon (based on vertical and (i?)con), is sometimes used when referring to the East Asian style of emoticon.

The smile is represented with a basic smiley :-). The colon represents the eyes, the hyphen is for the nose, and the parenthesis is for the mouth.

Many variants exist with different symbols substituted for the basic ones. The symbol for the nose is often omitted, for example :) or ;). When the colon is replaced with the equals sign, =), the nose is almost always omitted (so one would not see =-), for example).

Some web sites offer free animated emoticons you can use as a smily face or as animated smiley faces. These sites give you free emoticons in an emoticons list - they usually offer funny emoticons and naughty emoticons that are usually delivered as animated gifs.