Emoticons, those little symbols or combinations of characters that are used in email, texting, and on the web to represent actions, facial expressions, and emotions have been around a long time – 30 years, in fact. ABC News has a brief history of how emoticons got started by Scott Fahlman, professor at Carnegie Mellon University. The World Wide Web didn’t exist yet but people were merrily communicating online in various ways. By today’s standards communication was incredibly slow and limited to text. One widely used means was what was called a bulletin board. Humans being what they are, jokes were a common topic. So Fahlman proposed using certain combinations of characters to indicate smiles and other markers for jokes and they were called smileys
From their beginning as joke markers, emoticons have expanded enormously and there is a very large list at Cool Smileys.