Emoticons, Emojis, Chat Abbreviations and Avatars

As the web has grown as a form of communication, it’s funny to think that we are actually returning back to our written communication roots! But, oh how different communicating by "keyboard" in the 21st century is from the type or hand written communications of the past.

Since written communications can be interpreted in many ways, and feeling can sometimes get lost, people have come up with creative ways to express emotion in their work. USING ALL CAPS HAS THE EFFECT OF SHOUTING. using all lower case letters even for proper names, the pronoun i, and sentence capitals can convey either very casual communications or lack of effort. b aware of what image you may be portraying.

Punctuation becomes of utmost importance too. It is always good to read your note, letter, or request out loud before you send it. One brief example of a misunderstanding due to punctuation and emphasis is:

Let’s eat, mommy.
Let’s eat mommy.

The longer the sentence is, the more ripe for misinterpretation due to inaccurate punctuation.

AFK or BRB???

If you are bewildered by the amount of chat abbreviations people use while communicating on the internet, (and almost everywhere else) you are not alone! In an effort to cut down on text-message charges, time, and to befuddle those who do not know, people of all ages have really grabbed on to the abbreviations.

A few of the most common are:

  • AFK – away from keyboard
  • BRB – be right back
  • BTW – by the way
  • FYI – for your information
  • F2F – face to face
  • HAND – have a nice day
  • HB – hurry back
  • IDK – I don’t know
  • IMHO – in my humble opinion
  • LOL – laugh out loud (or sometimes, lots of love)
  • NP – no problem
  • RL – real life
  • ROFL / ROTFL – rolling on the floor, laughing
  • TIA – thanks in advance
  • TMI – too much information
  • WRK – work
  • WTG – way to go
  • YW – you’re welcome

Here’s a comprehensive listing:


Have a Happy Day! :)
happy face emoticon
on the phone emoticon
big grin emoticon
roll on the floor laughing emoticon

According to wikipedia (see emoticon article link below), the predecessor of the modern "emoticon" (the cute little smiley faces and such) was first documented in 1857 when Morse code operators purportedly used the number 73 to mean love and kisses…. In 1982, professor Scott Fahlman at Carnegie Mellon University suggested using :-) to indicate jokes and :-( to indicate things that weren’t jokes… and we haven’t looked back since!

Emoticons have evolved into more than just smiley faces. There are bugs, cowboys, four-leafed clovers, flowers, animals and more. No longer are they always a small 16×16 pixel size. While some people now refer to any sort of fun graphic embedded into an email as an emoticon, most still only consider the ones that convey some actual emotion an emoticon. These usually have some reference to the human body, such as a nose, eye, hand, or an action of emotion like crying, giving flowers, wishing good luck, etc. But… like most everything else on the internet, there are no hard and fast rules.

These days, most every instant messaging and chat service and even email software has their own depiction of the common emoticons. Below are a few directories. The basic typography is similar among them, but the graphical image can vary. See the traditional smiley face for comparison.

To use emoticons:

  1. If you have a newer version of an email program like Outlook or Eudora, you should be able to access the emoticons from your formatting menu. (See your software’s help and search on "emoticon.") Third-party additions are also available for Windows computers, see the specific software for installation information.
  2. If you have a chat service like Yahoo Messenger, MSN, iChat, or AOL Instant Messenger, you can usually access a menu with many of the emoticons programmed in already. If one you want is not there, try typing in the typographical equivalent — you’ll have to know what it is first by checking the Yahoo, MSN and Wikipedia links below.
  3. Search on and visit a site for "free smilies" or "free emoticons." Some will have applications you can download with bonus smilies for your chat application.
  4. Other free emoticon sites will just have pages of fun (and some disturbing!) images. If you find one you like, right-click (or command-click on a Mac) and "save image to disk" or the like and remember where you saved it. You should be able then to drag and drop the graphic into your email, or if that doesn’t work, open it (with Picture Viewer or Preview, copy it, and paste it back into your email.

Who do I want to be today???

Many online environments allow users to create their own cartoon-like image known as an "avatar" to represent themselves. AOL Instant Messenger was one of the first to do so, and now even product support forums (such as this sample one for WordPress, an open source blogging software) allow users to upload or create their own online persona. Some even allow for uploading of real-life photos, or both. A major element of the online community Second Life is avatar customization… but beware, this can take precious time away from your studies!

In addition, many distance learning software modules allow students and instructors to upload a photo or avatar. While it is usually a completely optional activity, it can be a good way to help connect with your classmates.