Wednesday, 19 September 2012


The emoticon recently celebrated its 30th birthday - :-(

An emoticon is a pictorial representation of a facial expression using punctuation marks and letters, usually written to express a person's feelings or mood. They are annoying in the extreme.

Emoticons are often used to alert a responder to the mood and sentiment of a statement, and can change and improve interpretation (really?) of plain text; emoticons for a smiley face :-) and sad face :-( appear in their first documented use in digital form 30 years ago. The word is a portmanteau of the English words emotion and icon. In web-based forums, emails and text messgaging etc, text emoticons are often automatically replaced with small corresponding images, which came to be called emoticons as well.

Digital forms of emoticons on the internet were included in a proposal by Professor Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in a message on 19 September 1982.

Professor Fahlman sent an email that included the first use of the sideways smiley face.

"I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read it sideways." (Hilarious!)

The aim, according to the professor was to differentiate between those emails that were meant to be humorous and those that were not meant to be.

Once the initial email was sent the idea quickly spread to other universities and research labs across the computer network. 

The concept went global within months and has become a widely used communication tool - loved and loathed in equal measure. 

There are many modern day variations of the emoticon which appear mainly as small, yellow computer graphics.

While some are static, others move and express many different emotions. 

Professor Fahlman said that he disapproves of the updated emoticon. He told the Independent newspaper: 

"I think they are ugly, and they ruin the challenge of trying to come up with a clever way to express emotions using standard keyboard characters. But perhaps that's just because I invented the other kind." 

He said he was incredibly shocked that his simple invention took off in the way that it did: "This was a little bit of silliness that I tossed into a discussion about physics."

He went on. "It was ten minutes of my life. I expected my note might amuse a few of my friends, and that would be the end of it." 

Sadly not…

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