Someone INVENTED it: Emoticon

You might use this 100 times a day, depending on your age:

You probably type it as a colon followed by a parenthesis, like this:

: )

That may not have been part of your “vocabulary” 25 years ago but chances are, it is now. In fact, you’ve probably been exposed to all manner of “emoticons” starting with the humble smiley. Still, they all entered your consciousness in the last decade or two, and you probably think that’s when they were invented. Sure, some of the more complex ones like the kitty face >^o,o^< are pretty new, but take a look at this poem that dates back to 1648…

Tumble me down, and I will sit
Upon my ruins, (smiling yet: )
Tear me to tatters, yet I’ll be
Patient in my necessity.
Laugh at my scraps of clothes, and shun
Me, as a fear’d infection;
Yet, scare-crow-like, I’ll walk as one
Neglecting thy derision.

When the internet first learned of this a few months ago it caused a stir, but it turns out it’s not really history’s first emoticon, at least not intentionally. The intentional use of the emoticon does have a verifiable birthday, though, and it’s September 19, 1982. You can read the post where it was proposed here. The author is Scott Fahlman, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon at the time. He makes a brief, but quite serious, proposal on the use of punctuation to convey humor:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman :-)From: Scott E Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers: : - )

Read it sideways. Actually, it is probably more economical to mark things that are NOT jokes, given current trends. For this, use : - (

Simple, economical, brilliant. To which we say:

About the Author

Stuart Sweet
Stuart Sweet is the editor-in-chief of The Solid Signal Blog and a "master plumber" at Signal Group, LLC. He is the author of over 9,000 articles and longform tutorials including many posted here. Reach him by clicking on "Contact the Editor" at the bottom of this page.