In 1982, when the Internet was still in its formative stages, Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott Fahlman "realized the need for a symbol to temper the bickering that plagued online forums." Thus the :-) was born. And as the Internet has evolved, so too has the emoticon. “Wherever the Internet went, the smiley face was there within weeks,” Fahlman says.

To better understand our e-emotions, Tyler Schnoebelen, who recently completed his Ph.D. in linguistics at Stanford University, analyzed millions of Twitter messages. An excerpt from his Q&A appears below.

Q: You found that about 10 percent of the tweets in your sample had emoticons in them. Why so many?

A: In a full paragraph, you might be able to express how you’re feeling. But it becomes harder in a tweet, where you only have a few words.

Q: What is the difference between people who use :-) and people who use :) ?

A: The people who use :) follow a younger set of celebrities. They swear more, and they use spellings like “sooooo” and “loooove.” 

Q: What about ;) ? Is it a flirt?

A: Yes, we can assume that. It tends to appear near words like “horny,” “attractive,” “hot” and “dirty.” It doesn’t occur near words like “pleasant” or “irritated.” The world of ;) is sexy. 

[via NY Times Magazine]