The meaning of emoticons

Oct 14, 2011
smiley. Credit: Candie_N from Flickr

The emoticons used on Twitter are a language in themselves and are taking on new and often surprising meanings of their own, according to new research.

Alex Davies, a Gates scholar at the University of Cambridge, has created a visual map of the words associated with Twitter . It’s not just the usual smiley and sad face emoticons whose meaning is fairly obvious and associated with words such as birthday, weekend and Friday and hospital, cold, stomach and pain respectively.

Other emoticons include:

^_^ This is associated with more immediate pleasures such as food and holidays. Words linked to it include shopping, lunch, dinner and chocolate. It is more associated with Asian Tweeters, but has begun to be used more in the West.

<3 This emoticon, which looks like a heart on its side, is associated with words such as love, music, amazing, proud, beautiful, thankful, Jesus and Justin.

:/ This generally denotes a half-awake, slightly annoyed state, associated with words such as shift, sleeping, busy, class and Monday.

-_- This emoticon is indicative of frustration and is associated with words such as dumb, lame, dick and bitch.

Davies says all the emoticons he has analysed have been around for at least as long as the Internet has been in existence, but some are less prevalent than others. Some were used exclusively in Asia, but have now spread to the West, and being adopted by particular groups.

Davies, who is studying for a PhD in Engineering with a focus on statistical modelling, says: “The creation of new emoticons has essentially stopped, but the context and usage of existing ones is constantly evolving. Take for example Asian style emoticons, such as ^_^ (happy) and -_- (sad).

“Initially these were used almost exclusively by Asian online communities, but have slowly been adopted by different Western sub-cultures and have taken on subtly different meanings in these contexts. One way to visualise this usage is to visualise the words that are strongly associated with these emoticons. What is interesting is that two emoticons that essentially represent the same sentiment, such as :D and ^_^, actually differ substantially in how they are used, and we can see this in the images of the words.”

Davies has also published a list of the happiness/sadness of 7,500 common words on Twitter after he was approached at an international conference about his previous work on creating a Twitter map of happiness. He was asked if he could release a list of so people could easily create systems that use sentiment analysis of Twitter.

Davies says: “Twitter contains a wealth of sentiment information which researchers and businesses are very interested to explore so they can assess the changing global mood on different issues in real time and make predictions based on this.”

Explore further: Physicists create tool to foresee language destruction impact and thus prevent it

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Germans top table of happiest tweets

Apr 05, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- The country rated highest on the map which rated words and icons used to describe happiness on social network site Twitter.

Facial expressions show language barriers too

Aug 13, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- People from East Asia tend to have a tougher time than those from European countries telling the difference between a face that looks fearful versus surprised, disgusted versus angry, and ...

An evil storm is forecast

Jun 13, 2006

Wicked, Evil, Foul, Bad -- all words meaning essentially the same thing, yet we don't talk about "evil weather," "foul witches" or the "forces of bad."

Swear words shed light on how language shapes thought

Jul 25, 2011

Why were people offended when BBC broadcaster James Naughtie mispronounced the surname of the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt? Why is it much easier for bilingual speakers to swear in their second language? ...

2009: the Year of Twitter

Nov 30, 2009

The year has not yet ended but Microsoft says "Twitter" was among the top searches of 2009 on its new search engine Bing and a company which monitors language has crowned it the top word of the year.

Recommended for you

Affirmative action elicits bias in pro-equality Caucasians

3 hours ago

New research from Simon Fraser University's Beedie School of Business indicates that bias towards the effects of affirmative action exists in not only people opposed to it, but also in those who strongly endorse equality.

Election surprises tend to erode trust in government

23 hours ago

When asked who is going to win an election, people tend to predict their own candidate will come out on top. When that doesn't happen, according to a new study from the University of Georgia, these "surprised losers" often ...

Awarded a Pell Grant? Better double-check

Jul 23, 2014

(AP)—Potentially tens of thousands of students awarded a Pell Grant or other need-based federal aid for the coming school year could find it taken away because of a mistake in filling out the form.

User comments : 0