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I know that in Japanese, text messaging the letter “w” is short for warau (笑う), which means “to laugh".

I'm curious if it has any relation to how the "w" could look like a laughing mouth in an emoticon like "^w^". I've had a friend from Japan use that emoji with me, so I'm wondering about "w"'s etymology.

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w emerged and became popular spontaneously, so no one can tell what the people who started using it were thinking. That said, I personally think the resemblance to a laughing mouth was obvious (at least to those who had been familiar with Japanese-style kaomoji like ^w^), and it should not be unrelated to why it gained popularity.

ω (Greek omega) is another popular symbol for laughing mouth in kaomoji (eg (・ω・)), and it is sometimes used instead of w at the end of a sentence, too.

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    "w" was originated from ancient MMO games, like Ultima Online... at that time, people were (including me) using "(藁{わら}" (wara) as expression of laugh. It became "(w " at some point (maybe around Knight online became popular), to shorten typing time, and after that, it became "w". I don't know who started it either, but it's definitely someone from MMO game player.
    – Skye-AT
    Nov 21, 2021 at 10:54
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I don't think so. My Japanese friend Miko said it was usually "ww" and not "w".

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