Emoticons - emotional icons - are those sometimes clever, sometimes silly symbols or shortcuts you get in e-mail messages - you know, the ones that can't be conveyed in plain words or text.
Hipper-than-thou co-workers and even bosses and customers are using - or maybe overusing - them to compensate for not being able to convey voice inflections, facial expressions or bodily gestures on the Internet.
Some call them smileys. To others, they're just geekspeak. Many emoticons were created to look like a face with features when rotated 90 degrees clockwise. Sometimes they are used with a new world of acronyms that have popped up, from BTW (by the way) to HTH (hope this helps).
Here's a sampling of symbols. For a larger sampling, check out computeruser.com/resources/dictionary/noframes/nf.emoticons.html.