Mad, Sad, Glad: Emoticons Show It All

Remember the days when kisses and hugs displayed affection at the end of hand-written letters? XXX OOO

Then came smiley faces with a circle, two dots for eyes, and curvy mouth, maybe even a dot for the nose. Hugs were shown as parentheses: ((((  ))))  They still are!

With online communication, showing mad, sad, or glad emotions has become sophisticated, expressed graphically as emoticons which can be divided into three styles, western or European, Asian, and a two-channel style which includes Japanese. When I write an email message, I can choose from these icons shown below. Just hover over the desired icon, click on it, and I can be cool, with glasses, cry, feign innocence, wink, claim my lips are sealed, ask for money, even YELL (last icon).

email Emoticons


Facebook has even more choices: Confusion conveyed here!

 Confused Emoticons

Some Facebook icons are called stickers. And they are large and sticky! If perchance, you click on one of these, the emoticon swells to a one-inch size, gobbling up your text. I have learned to refrain!

If you want to get really fancy on Facebook, Beep the Meep is available, a fictional alien who appeared in the weekly comic strip Dr. Who Weekly.

HAPPY emoticons

If felines are your friends, by all means click on Pusheen the Cat, a roly-poly character in an animated comic series.



Author Angela Ackerman has commented on how writers can use words so they appear as pictures in readers’ minds in her book, The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Emotional Expression co-written with Becca Puglisi. The Amazon overview says this about her guide:

One of the biggest problem areas for writers is conveying a character’s emotions to the reader in a unique, compelling way. This book comes to the rescue by highlighting 75 emotions and listing the possible body language cues, thoughts, and visceral responses for each. Using its easy-to-navigate list format, readers can draw inspiration from character cues that range in intensity to match any emotional moment.

In other words, show in graphic detail that your character is angry, don’t announce it, easier said than done.

Blogger A. Piper Burgi has posted more vivid word choice suggestions for writers in a recent blog post entitled Increase Your Emotional Vocabulary.

+ + + + +

What do you think of the emoticon craze online? Is it right down your alley or do you think the icons are goofy or fake?

If you are a writer, what are your secrets to conveying emotion with words?

Bonus: A curious story: The man with a frozen smile  (Jonathan Kalb, “Give Me a Smile,” The New Yorker, January 12, 2015)


Coming next: Acquainted with Grief: Author Elaine Mansfield Speaks


39 thoughts on “Mad, Sad, Glad: Emoticons Show It All

  1. I pretty much stick with a smiley face or wink in a text or FB post. Sometimes they’re necessary there, so someone knows you’re joking or teasing. Some people go overboard with those huge stickers.


  2. I generally ignore the Facebook icons for emotion. However, I did just yesterday use () to send a hug by e-mail.

    Exploring your shared post, “Give me a smile,” I loved the way Mr. Kalb got us ‘into’ our bodies, especially into the mechanics of smiling and into cranial nerves.

    This is just one of many quotes I enjoyed:
    “Scientists have long been aware that emotions are the product of a collaboration between the mind and the body. Happiness, we know, results in smiling, but the converse is also true: the act of smiling can create feelings of happiness. “Thus the sovereign voluntary path to cheerfulness, if our spontaneous cheerfulness be lost, is to sit up cheerfully, to look round cheerfully, and to act and speak as if cheerfulness were already there,” the psychologist William James wrote in 1892.”

    Thank you, Marian, for inviting us into the world of emotions today.


    1. I’m glad to see you investigated the New Yorker article. There is something macabre and sad about a man who has lost the use of his smile muscles. But you also point out William James’ wise suggestion. Do you think he means “Fake it till you make it”?

      Always smile when I see you appear here, Dolores.


  3. I like the small unobtrusive ones. It’s sort of like using the invisible “said” in writing rather she scoffed, she whined… I try to use action beats to show what my characters are feeling and how they are behaving when they speak. This is new to me, but I like reading books written like this. I’m learning new writing style:
    “I’ll not listen to you berate me.” Jane turned her head to stare out the window with tears in her eyes and took a sip of her coffee.
    Rather than “I’ll not listen to you berate me,” Jane said. (or cried, or scoffed, or whined)
    Or “I’ll not listen to you berate me!” Jane exclaimed as she turned away sipping her coffee.
    The first example is wordier, but also aids in showing.


  4. My favorite use of emoticons comes from sending text messages back and forth with Owen. He discovered these a few weeks ago and had fun with the family iPhones. We could make up stories about the pictures we chose — so many options I didn’t even know were in my phone until he texted me.

    I prefer descriptive language and body language to emoticons, but when they aren’t easy to access, those little drawings do the job!


  5. A friend gave me a copy of Angela Ackerman’s book a couple of years ago and I find it the most valuable writing resource I own. I don´t tend to use emoticons but enjoy them when I see them. XO (I know, I´m a bit old fashioned that way!)


  6. Marian … The best example I can think of for ‘show, don’t tell’ is Anton Chekhov’s advice on writing: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

    Until I get that down, I will continue to use the emoticons such as the smiley face with a wink, Pusheen the cat and the minions. Thank you for sharing a few more so I can expand my repertoire. There are some I really wish I knew how they were done. Very cool. 😉


  7. I can’t help but break into song when I read some lines or something reminds me of a tune, song or instrumental. I do enjoy using the following ♪♫ Fun post today.

    I refrain from using them if I don’t know the person. If I am acquainted with them and know they won’t mind, I’ll use them. Sometimes in proofing a comment, I remember to proof out the emoticon mindful of perhaps the recipient I don’t know that well may not appreciate them.

    For a while I wondered what “J” meant in some e-mails. Daughter explained that some smiley faces don’t translate in certain formats. That was funny because for a while I thought perhaps I was missing a new one. Luckily I never signed anything “J.”


    1. Thank you for your “tutorial” comments here. I didn’t know about the melody line graphic but have seen “j,” not understanding it was a lack of translation. You use emoticons with discretion – using them too much dilutes their effect, I think.


  8. 🙂 🙂 🙂 I like a bit of use of these … they actually do make me smile when sending or receiving 🙂 I’m not very up on them however … on my cell phone I have a choice to depict smile, grimace, sending a ladybird or a streak of lightning and many others! … My sister and I exchange them …


    1. I haven’t seen the ladybird or streak of lightning icon – just faces in various contortions. There is a certain sterility in digital communication. I think emoticons try to bridge the gap as you do with your sister, just for fun! Thanks, Susan.


  9. Marian — I’m oh-so-limited in the use of emoticons. A simple smiley face in Facebook, with a broacher choice in texting on my iPhone with my family.

    I actually won an ebook version of “The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character
    Expression” by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi. I haven’t actually used it in my writing — yet — but I hope to in the future.

    You asked, “If you are a writer, what are your secrets to conveying emotion with words?” Typically I put myself in the character’s shoes (and/or scene), pretend that I’m looking in the mirror, and write what I see.


    1. You are a master (mistress) in distilling emotions with minimal text, very effective. Walking around in your character’s moccasins sounds like the perfect way to make them come alive. Looking in the mirror – also a good tip. One other commenter has mentioned an Angela Ackerman book, this one with the emphasis on emotional expression. Stay warm in Boise today, Laurie!


  10. Marian, you are much more informed with emoticons, and I really enjoyed your examples. On my computer, if someone tries to send certain emoticons, the email will end up in SPAM, so I have to check frequently in case something has been dumped there. I’ve received several stickies, and found out the hard way about the expansion and the gobbling up of text.
    Excellent instructions!


    1. Yes, sometimes emoticons are intrusive, and I will never intentionally click on one of those expansive stickies on Facebook. As far as I can tell, the text simply disappears.

      I’m glad you learned something from this post. Your posts are likewise so very instructive – first rate!


  11. When I read the story about the man with the frozen face it was like history repeating itself… It happened to my husband a few years ago and he has never fully recovered from it Marian.
    He was going though a stressful time before it happened. His Father was dying, and he came back from the hospital complaining of terrible pain. When woke the next day, I thought he’d had a stoke but after seeing him, the doc said it was Bells .
    He has always had a gorgeous face but now a little crooked. He still has a gorgeous smile just lopsided slightly. I don’t think anyone else notices, but when he gets tired it gets worse.
    Love the icons but the computer is still a mystery to me so I’m not sure how to use them …I am learning …It’s like work in progress.


    1. Thank you for your heart-felt comment here. I notice that you appreciate that your husband still has a gorgeous smile, lopsided but still gorgeous in your eyes. That’s what counts. Someone reading your story may take heart. I’m always happy to see you here, Cherry!


    1. You are already quite savvy, Marie – I don’t think you need a guide, but maybe you could do some research and write your own for the audience your describe. With your wit and candor, I’m sure it would be funny-ha-ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Dear Marian, I too have learned to refrain from using “stickies” on Facebook, but I do love leaving 🙂 🙂 🙂 for those I care about. And sometimes even a { } or two. But I find that you are quite better informed than most of us, and I thank you for the lesson in emoticons today. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings!


    1. Your tone is always heart-felt without using emoticons, Sherrey. I did have to do a bit of research for this post. I had no idea who Beep the Meep was – or Pusheen the Cat.

      As you can tell, I have collaborated with author Elaine Mansfield for tomorrow’s post. When you have to voice grief, turn to a writer, I say. Thanks for your comment and the sweet tweet today.


    1. Your words are your emoticons, Elaine. Word pictures are more intriguing than cute little graphics in my book.

      Yes, my mind darts around for the odd/interesting thing to post.
      😉 that you are surprised.


  13. Thanks for enlightening us with the actual names of the FB stickers, lol, I often wondered what they represented. I like using emoticons. I feel it adds, sincerity and warmth to someone. The odd 🙂 or ❤ never hurt anyone. And I love Angela Ackerman's books. 🙂


Thank You for Leaving a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s