Category : Surviving in Korea
Apr 21, 2015


In part I of the Korean Texting Survival, I went over some of the basic abbreviations Koreans like to use when texting.  In part II, we will jump into the world of emoticons.  As you may or may not know, emoticons are pictorial representation of a facial expression.  Many of the messaging applications we use today have set emoticons for you to use.  When it’s actually written out using symbols, emoticons are usually written at a right angle whereas in Korea some emoticons are in the proper angle.



So in the first part of this column, I went over some of the abbreviations or shortcuts, Koreans use when texting.  In part II I would like to go over some of the most important emoticons or symbols most Koreans use in their everyday texting life. 


1. ^^ or ^_^


This proper term for this symbol is called a caret.  A caret is an inverted V-shaped grapheme.  Just by looking at these back to back carets, you can see that it looks like eyes.  And these aren’t just any eyes; these are crescent-shaped eyes.  What do crescent-shaped eyes represent?  They represent someone smiling.  This can be used in many ways for example


Friend A: Let’s go to the club tonight?

Friend B: OK^^


It’s a basic portrayal of showing that you’re excited and happy.  And the text looks so much nicer than just saying “OK.”



2. ^_~


This intriguing combination is one caret followed by an underscore followed by a tilde.  As I mentioned before a caret represents a happy eye.  The underscore is the mouth or lips in this case.  The tilde is the most important symbol is this combination.  It is a closed eye, just like a wink.  This emoticon can be used when you’re trying to be slick/sly, cute or a little bit mischievous.


Friend A: What are you doing tonight?

Friend B: Same thing I do every night ^_~


A wink is a form of nonverbal communication usually signaling shared information/knowledge or intent.  Although most winks are done face to face and not through phones, the wink emoticon can be used in texts



3. -_-


Can you tell what facial expression this emoticon entails?  It looks pretty boring to me.  It’s a hyphen followed by an underscore followed by another hyphen.  When I first try to guess what this is I would have thought it was an emoticon portraying being tired or sleepy.  It is actually a “serious face” The more and more I look at it, I can see it. 


Friend A: Dude I think I failed my chemistry quiz

Friend B: Haha you idiot.

Friend A: -_-


The serious emoticon can be used in many ways.  It doesn’t always have to be used in serious situations.  It can be used in any type of situations such as when you’re shocked or surprised (Dude I have to work overtime -_-) or actually when you’re tired (I’m so tired… -_-).  It’s a way of conveying a message to the person you’re messaging.


4. ㅜㅜ or ㅠㅠ or ㅠ_ㅠ


Up until this point we understand that any hyphen or caret represents eyes.  Same goes for these very similar emoticons.  The symbols used are a part of the Korean alphabet.  It is the vowel ㅜ, which is pronounced U(우). You can see that that there is a straight line coming out of the eyes.  That represents tears so this is an emoticon that represents crying.


Friend A: I failed my test today ㅜㅜ.

Friend B: I got fired today ㅠㅠ

Friend C: I broke up with my girlfriend today ㅠ_ㅠ


And the examples can go on.  It is definitely used in sad situations.  You would never use it in an good situation like, “I got a promotionㅜㅜ.” It’s contradictory. 



5. ^^;


There are two carets followed by a semi-colon.  We know those two carets represent a happy face but the semi-colon throws everything off.  It’s as though something is dripping from the face.  It can’t be a tear because we already have an emoticon for that.  The semi-colon here represents sweat.  It’s a smiling face however sweating so it must mean that the person is in an awkward situation.  The person using the emoticon can also being nervous, worried, anxious or uneasy. Here are some examples:


Friend A: I came into work late today. I hope my boss didn’t notice ^^;

Friend B: The results for the test come back next week ^^;

Friend C: That girl is so hot. I really want to talk to her ^^;


If it calls for an uneasy situation, definitely use this emoticon.  If you want to cut a conversation, use it without shame.  I’m sure most people won’t understand what it means but it’ll be a way for you to peace out of the convo.



6. +_+


The eyes kind of say it all.  This is the surprised emoticon.  Using a plus symbol for the eyes, this emoticon is used when you are in shock.  You heard some news about your friends girlfriend cheating on him, respond with this emoticon.  You found out your friend is marrying a girl he’s known for 3 hours, respond with this.  When you have no words to describe how shocked or surprised you are this is the perfect response to this type of situation. 


Friend A: I’m moving out of my house and moving to Busan to start my life as a gangster. Don’t stop me.

Friend B +_+


Of course it can be used in happy situations too, in the right context. 



7. @_@


Two ‘at signs’ represent the eyes.  Look closely and what do you feel?  Confused, right? Because that is what I feel.  I feel kind of dizzy too, very dizzy.  This is the confused emoticon obviously used in situations where you don’t understand what the other person is saying at all. 


Friend A: I think I love you~

Friend B: Um… @_@


Friend A: afhoidfhasoifhasoifh

Friend B: @_@



8. ㅗ


What does that look like to you?  I’m sure there’s going to be a time you’re talking to a friend or an enemy and you’re just going to be sick of what the other person has to say.  That’s when you use this symbol, “ㅗ.” It’s the middle finger.  And if you haven’t been living on the island for the past 20 years you know what this means.  It basically means “f*ck off” or “f*ck you” or “go f*ck yourself.”


Person A: Yo is this PersonB who hooked up with my girl?

Person B: YEAH

Person A: ㅗ



9. OTL


I had an extremely tough time deciphering this one so I just googled it.  It is a Korean emoticon expressing desperation and disappointment.  You have to imagine a man kneeling down with both hands on the ground in disbelief. 


O = Head

T = Body, arms stretching out towards the ground

L = Legs


Friend A: OMG, I puked everywhere last night. OTL



10.  =_=


An equal sign followed by an underscore followed by an underscore.  Its pretty obvious of what this emoticon entails: sleepiness.  Used in every kind of situation: if you are bored in class, messaging a boring person or just tired in general. 


Friend A: Sup bro. You trying to do something tonight?

Friend B: NO. I’m tired as hell =_=


11. ~_~


A tilde followed by an underscore followed by a tilde.  The eyes and the mouth, what do they represent?  I mentioned before the tilde represented a semi closed eye.  With both eyes semi closed that means the emoticons represent sleeplessness right? Almost. We already have an emoticon for sleeplessness.  This represents boredom, kind of like the face you make right before you’re about to fall asleep but you’re really trying to stay away for class.


Boy A: I like reading in my spare time.  I make about $80,000 a year and I have my own place. I work out a lot.  Do you want to go out with me sometime.

Boy B: ~_~


12. -_-a


This emoticon has two eyes following the letter ‘a’ Without the letter ‘a’ its just another serious face.  However with the ‘a’ it represents a hand scratching the side of the head.  So it’s the ‘scratching of the head’ emoticon representing someone not knowing what the other person is saying.


Student A: Explain to me why E = MC2

Student B: -_-a


13. 0ㅠ0


I found this one to be hilarious.  You should know by know that anything in between the eyes represents something with the mouth.  The eye are crescent, or closed or even half open; they are wide open.  The ‘ㅠ’ looks as though something is coming out of its mouth.  This is the vomiting emoticon.  The emoticon has two big eyes and its puking definitely from partying way too hard from the night before or because it heard something disgusting. 


Boy A: I love you!

Girl A: 0ㅠ0


Friend A: It was cupcake Tuesdays so we spent the whole together in each others arms.

Bro A: 0ㅠ0


14. ^3^


I was staring at this emoticon for like 10 minutes before I could figure out what it was.  Even when I looked on the internet it didn’t really help.  But I did find out that the 3 represented a cute cat face which makes absolutely no sense to me.  The more and more I look at it though it does make sense. The 3 looks like lips.  So with its two happy eyes and the 3 in the middle it’s a kissing emoticon.


Boy A: I want to kiss you ^3^

Girl A: Gross. 0ㅠ0


15. *^^*


It is an asterix followed by two carets followed by another asterix.  There’s no other way to explain but by saying it’s a blushed face.  Blushing usually happens when your face reddens involuntarily.  The asterix represent the “redness” in the face when you’re blushing


Boy A: You’re the prettiest girl I’ve ever met in my life

Girl A: *^^* really?

Boy A: Absolutely not



16. >.<


It’s kind of like the face you make when you taste something sour or too sweet.  Your face gets scrunched up.  This is the “embarrassed” emoticon.  Obviously this is used in embarrassing situations. 


Tags : Korean. Survival. Texting. Emoticon

Abraham Kim is a Korean American living in the outskirts of Seoul, Korea. He loves movies, baseball and hip-hop. He is a self-proclaimed pizza and sriracha aficionado. He likes to live his life a quarter mile at a time.