I argued once, in a syntax paper, that emoticons should be classified as “words”. They carry meaning, they act as discourse markers, and therefore, they act like any other word.
Yeah, yeah, I know — it’s following the same wordcount algorithm employed by software like Microsoft Word to count words (which counts anything between spaces as a word, including “special symbols”); that isn’t exactly the same as saying that popular sites and software are considering emoticons as words. They just happen to fall into the parameters that the wordcount feature is operating in.
Still… it made me grin with the kind of geeky glee that is pretty unique to linguists.