The emoticon, or smiley, is an expression created from punctuation and has become an everyday addition to text on the internet. The origins of the emoticon are disputed, but it is mainly attributed to two people. On 19th September 1982, American computer scientist Scott Fahlman posted a message on a university message board suggesting the use of emoticons : – ) in order to imply the message was not to be taken seriously and : – ( to imply that it was. Fahlman subsequently wrote about his invention here. It is interesting that the purpose for which Fahlman designed the smiley is essentially still the same now:

Given the nature of the community, a good many of the posts were humorous (or attempted humor). The problem was that if someone made a sarcastic remark, a few readers would fail to get the joke, and each of them would post a lengthy diatribe in response. That would stir up more people with more responses, and soon the original thread of the discussion was buried. In at least one case, a humorous remark was interpreted by someone as a serious safety warning.

The invention of the emoticon has also been attributed to a man called Kevin MacKenzie who sent the symbol -) meaning ‘tongue in cheek’ in an email on April 12 1979. Whether or not they can be considered ‘emoticons’ it is interesting to mention evidence of other typographical expressions found much earlier. US satirical magazine Puck published these faces as early as 1881, clearly a very innovative precursor to the modern emoticon.

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