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Sometimes during instant messaging, people will want to express an action, possibly something where an acronym doesn't exist for, yet. The formula is generally opened by two colons, an action-description, and then closed by two colons (:: action-description ::).

They will type something like:

:: hugs ::
::jumps for joy::

What is the name for this and where did it come from?

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    This phenomenon is extremely interesting because, after thousands of years of language, just in our lifetimes an entirely new discourse situation has arisen: indicating something that the speaker does — right at that moment — that the listener can neither see nor hear ("speaker" and "listener" are used in a broad sense in this case). It is pretty cool! – Kosmonaut Feb 28 '11 at 14:29
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This is one of the many, many variations on what is called, in my neck of the woods, emote syntax. The version you describe may be a descendant of "emotes" (generally meaning a freeform message display) as they are typically implemented on MUDs, MUSHes, MUCKs, and so on, which uses a command form like:

:jumps for joy

which results in everybody in the same virtual "room" seeing, for a user named Somebody,

Somebody jumps for joy.

In IM, I personally use *action* emote syntax. <action> is also popular, and /action has made some headway from the MMORPGs where it's used for "social actions". People routinely just invent their own personal syntaxes out of whole cloth, which is another likely origin for your ::action:: form.

The general idea of emote syntax may go back to the first MUD, which opened in 1978, and certainly isn't much older than Usenet, which dates to 1980.

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