Do U Speak Text? Deciphering Korean Emoticons \(^0^)/

Written by on March 22, 2013 in Lifestyle

Koreans are creative with their texting and netspeak and it’s no wonder – Korea has millions of smartphone and cell phone users and internet is readily available in even the remotest corners of the country! Emoticons and expressions are the fun part of text and netspeak; they convey a wide range of emotions and they even cover situations you probably haven’t thought of yet!

There honestly hundreds and hundreds of emoticons and variations thereof, so generally speaking something upturned or bubbly indicates positive or silly feelings; dashes, dots, semi-colons, and anything down-turned indicate negative emotions; asterisks represent blushing or cuteness, and anything repeated shows emphasis or frequency. Let’s explore the emotions: happiness, excitement, laughter, love, sadness, anger, and a couple of others just for fun!

Feelin’ Good

The most ubiquitous Korean emoticon is the smiley or happy face: ^^ . This little icon is designed to look like two eyes that are squinted shut from smiling so hard. You can also use punctuation or Korean letters to create the mouth and nose: ^_^ , ^.^ , ^o^ , ^^, ㅇㅂㅇ, '' , ^u^ , h_h . An open mouth implies that you are laughing or shouting joyfully. You can also some parentheses to make a head for your smiley face, like so (^o^).

Add a friendly feel to your note couple of these ~ . These wavy tilde lines sweeten your words and make the final sound long and drawn out. For example, “Hi~~~” sounds super-friendly: “Hiiii”. Compare “Hello” and “Hello~”. Doesn’t that wavy line make you feel nice? I feel better already! These marks can also place emphasis, for instance, “Happy~~~” emphasizes your happiness.

If you’re feeling excited about something, you’ve just gotta throw your hands up in the air and sing: \(^0^)/. Or you can reply to your friend’s good news with a well-placed, 우와! (oo-wa!; meaning, Wow!), 아싸! (a-ssa!; meaning, Oh yeah! or Awesome!) or 짱! (jjang!; meaning Boss!, Super!, or Great!). Send a little encouragement their way with a 파이팅! or 화이팅!, which sounds like “Fighting!” and means, “You can do it! Let’s go!” or “Fighting spirit!” Or you could show them the stars in your eyes, ★.★.

If you’re feeling extra giddy, imitate the sound of laughter with Korean characters: ㅋㅋ or 크크 (keke or keukeu, often written kk) and ㅎㅎ (hh) mean chuckles or laughing. Write giggles with ㅋㄷㅋㄷ (kede kede), short for      키득키득 (kideuk kideuk). Sound cute by saying 히히 (heehee) or try a Western-style 하하 (haha). ㅍㅎㅎ or
푸하하 (puhaha) means “bwahaha” or lol.

A few giggles just won’t cut it when you’re feeling lovey-dovey. Try a wink, ^.~ , a kiss with puckered lips, ^3^ , or a loving stare, ♡.♡ . Show off your flirty face or indicate that you’re blushing from their compliment with one of these, *^.^* or pay a compliment to the man in your life by calling him Superman and pointing out his bulging muscles,  ~m^0^m~ . You can even send a hug with two embracing emoticons! (>^_^)> <(^_^<).


Unfortunately our love lives aren’t always what we want them to be or sometimes we feel a little down. ㅠㅠ and ㅜㅜ show closed eyes with tears streaming down the face, also written as T-T or Y.Y and ;_; . If you are bawling your eyes out, it might sound like 뉴뉴 (“nyu nyu”) or look like this: ~~~~>_<~~~~  You may even crouch down on the ground in sobbing pain:  OTL    Can you see it? The O = head, T = torso and arm, and L = the bent leg! Disappointment can expressed ㅡ_ㅡ or ㅡ.ㅡ or you can retort a snarky comment by saying, “Hey, I have lots of friends!” (-(-(-.-)-)-) Finally, this face puts the “emo” back into emoticon – it literally means that you’re sad and you’re hiding behind your long hair,  -_ㅔ

Embarrassment, Shyness, Annoyance, and Anger
Of course, you may simply be embarrassed. Sweating is represented by semi-colons and the more you write, the more you are sweating. If you are upset write it like so, ㅡ_ㅡ;  . If you feel silly for being embarrassed, this will convey it better, ^^;;; or you can show a giant, silly, comic-style sweat drop, ^_^U or ^.^U. Awkward shyness can be conveyed with *–* .  Depending on the context, show embarrassment, awkwardness, frustration or speechlessness with ;;; which is similar to “whatever,” “errrrrrr” or “wtf?”  Use >_< and >.<  to convey anger or a Homer Simpson-esque “D’oh!” . Use -_- or -.- show that you’re annoyed or trying to hide annoyance.

If you’re really mad though,  toss that jerk a middle finger, ㅗ or even two like this, ㅗㅗ or this, ㅛ ! You can even punch them with a tiny fist moving through the air toward them, ㄷㄷㄷㄷㄷ !  Just don’t tell them that I taught you, okay? ^.~   Finally, ㅎㄷㄷ or 후덜덜 and ㄷㄷㄷ or 덜덜덜 can also indicate trembling, which could be from anger, fear, or just the cold.


Perhaps after that argument, you’ll come to a peaceful conclusion.  Say okay with  ㅇㅋ  or 오케 or 오케이.  Express agreement, confirmation, or understanding with 응 (eung). You could also use the shortened ㅇㅇ, but be careful because depending on context it could sound more like a snippy “Yeah, yeah” or “Yeah, shut up”.

Alas, maybe that argument didn’t work out so well. It’s time to have some fun (or drown your sorrows!) with some soju. Feeling too tipsy? Tell your friend that you’re drunk and dizzy, <<@_@>> Feeling hung-over or a little ill? 0ㅠ0 and ㅡㅠㅡ illustrate vomiting… Ew. Are you hugging the toilet and puking in a kneeling position?
Show it like this:  요TL   I hope you never have to use this one!;;;;

Shock, Surprise, and Amazement
Show shock or surprise, o_O or o.O or BIG surprise, O.O . Indicate confusion or amazement with big or starry eyes like this, @.@,  +_+ or *.* and scratch your head to indicate thinking, (^_^)a . Express surprise or disbelief with 헐~ (heol) which basically means, “Huh”.

Having Fun

Indicate dancing with repeated versions of these, <(^_^)>,(>^_^)> or these to show listening to music with headphones on: d(^_^)b,  o|^_^|o , o(^_^)o . Sleepiness is shown with (-.-)Zzz , ~_~ zZz , or =_=  and you can wake someone up with 긋모닝 or “Good morning”!  Get it? Make the go-to pose for taking pictures by making a “V” for “Victory” like this,  v(^-^)v or like this,  ^-^V . Give two thumbs up like this,  b(^_^)d  . Make a mischievous cat face, =^.^=  or a cute animal face, “ㅈ” , ''"ㅅ" . Tell someone “Call me” with Konglish, 콜미, and shorten “thanks” to “thx” with this, ㄳㄳ .

Saying Goodbye
And there you have it, your crash course in Korean text and netspeak! Have I missed anything? Which one is your favourite? Let me know in the comments!  Until next time, I’ll say goodbye. ㅂㅂ or 바이바이 orㅂ2ㅂ2.
Bye bye~~~!

About the Author

Jessica Steele

Jessica Steele is a Canadian expat teaching, writing, and adventuring in Busan, South Korea. She has lived in Korea for nearly four years, but her travels aren’t finished yet. Her favourite things in Korea are the festivals, neon lights, and of course, kimchi.