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12 Facts About the Emoticon's History That May Surprise You

by Carlo Alcos Mar 27, 2014

YOU PROBABLY take emoticons for granted. I do. Colon-parenthesis is a smile. Semi-colon-parenthesis is a wink. Colon-capital-P is a tongue sticking out. For many of you these have probably been a part of your vocabulary since you remember. They just are. But they haven’t always been. Here’s a history lesson for you.

  1. Your brain reacts to emoticons as if they were real faces, according to a recent study in the scientific journal Social Neuroscience.
  2. The first email smiley face was sent at 11:44 am on September 19, 1982.
  3. The message was not originally saved (they were able to retrieve a copy 20 years after the fact).
  4. Colon-dash-parenthesis was invented by Scott Fahlman, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science.
  5. The smiley face was created to mark a lighter or sarcastic tone in the simple text messages and avoid misunderstandings and fights.
  6. The first idea to mark messages as “not serious” was to use an asterisk in the subject line. Scott thought he could do better than that.
  7. It started being used just within the school Scott worked in, then spread to other schools but was limited to how many were joined — at that point, around 10 — over the ARPANET (the Internet in those days).
  8. As more schools joined the network they would take on the use of the smiley face, expanding its reach and use.
  9. The inventor of the text smiley face doesn’t like emojis, the graphic illustration of the character-based emoticons. He thinks they’re ugly.
  10. Some people challenge the validity that Scott invented the first emoticon; a transcript from 1862 of an Abraham Lincoln speech apparently contains a winkey smiley face.
  11. It’s theorized that this winkey smiley face in Abraham Lincoln’s speech is just a typo.
  12. Scott doesn’t claim to be the inventor of emoticons; he just invented colon-dash-parenthesis.

Below is an entertaining interview with Scott Fahlman on CBC’s “Q”:

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