Computers. a digital icon or a sequence of keyboard symbols that serves to represent a facial expression, as :‐) for a smiling face. emoticons are used in a digital message or text to convey the writer’s emotions or clarify intent.
Compare smiley, emoji.

1980–85; blend of emotion and icon

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World English Dictionary
emoticon (ɪˈməʊtɪˌkɒn)
any of several combinations of symbols used in electronic mail and text messaging to indicate the state of mind of the writer, such as :-) to express happiness
[C20: from emot(ion) + icon]

Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
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Word Origin & History

by 1994, apparently from emotion + icon.
Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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Example sentences
Ubiquitous emoticons aside, faces are also essential to the expression and
  registering of human feelings.
Top surfers have tattoos, nicknames that ape those of hip-hop stars and
  probably use lots of emoticons when emailing.
The main search screen is reasonably clean, though the emoticons in the date
  bits are arguably a bit too cutesy.
Likewise, including smileys and emoticons did little to change the shape of the
  world's moods.
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