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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Etymology of the Day: The Emoticon

Posted by on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 2:31 PM

Twenty Thirty years ago today*, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon posted this to a message board:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E. Fahlman :-)
From: Scott E. Fahlman

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


: - |

* I'm no mathologist, but Slog's trusty commenters are. Thanks, guys—and expect to see this correction in our annual regrets issue.


Comments (18) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
E_laine 1
Is my math wrong? Should this be 30 years? 1982 to 2012
Posted by E_laine on September 19, 2012 at 2:35 PM · Report this
mrbarky 2
Posted by mrbarky on September 19, 2012 at 2:36 PM · Report this
You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me 3
Posted by You_Gotta_Be_Kidding_Me on September 19, 2012 at 2:43 PM · Report this
Pick1 4
@1 Yay math!
Posted by Pick1 on September 19, 2012 at 2:45 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 5
That's thirty years ago, or I've been drinking illegally for almost a decade.
Posted by MacCrocodile on September 19, 2012 at 2:47 PM · Report this
wittyreference 6
In a 1969 interview the author Vladimir Nabokov responded to a question from the New York Times regarding where he saw himself in the pantheon of modern literary writers with the following:

"I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile–some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question."

Not an invention, but an imagination.
Posted by wittyreference on September 19, 2012 at 2:49 PM · Report this
Sweeney Agonistes 7
Can we bring back Mudede's emoticon set?
Posted by Sweeney Agonistes on September 19, 2012 at 2:51 PM · Report this
Cracker Jack 8
Posted by Cracker Jack on September 19, 2012 at 2:53 PM · Report this
@7: Sweeney, you just made me day.
Posted by PEM on September 19, 2012 at 2:55 PM · Report this
Zebes 10
(╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻
Posted by Zebes on September 19, 2012 at 3:01 PM · Report this
very bad homo 11
Posted by very bad homo on September 19, 2012 at 3:15 PM · Report this
dnt trust me 12
6 - that's cool to know, thanks
Posted by dnt trust me on September 19, 2012 at 3:17 PM · Report this
That's not an etymology, just the first use of the concept.

The word "emoticon" wasn't coined until the late 90s, by some douchebag geek-bandwagon gimmicky author who published a book of them. Large type, one per page. Remember when books were used as excuses for stupid art?

Before that, they were just called "smileys". But every techno-yuppie in the 90s had to give everything a stupid name, even if it already had one.
Posted by K on September 19, 2012 at 3:27 PM · Report this
@ 13. It's hairsplitting, but I meant this etymology to be of "the emoticon" (as a linguistic form), not not "emoticon" (as a word).
Posted by Brendan Kiley on September 19, 2012 at 3:53 PM · Report this
Crap. "Not of," not "not not."

I can't do anything right today.
Posted by Brendan Kiley on September 19, 2012 at 3:56 PM · Report this
@9 Wait, where do you find this Mudede emoticon set? It would make my day too. It was truly hilarious.
Posted by crone on September 19, 2012 at 4:47 PM · Report this
Brendan, you're not just off by a decade. You could be off by either one hundred or one hundred and twenty years in that estimate, depending on whether or not you believe Abraham Lincoln invented the form in the Gettysburg Address. Yes. Who would have thought the emoticon had such an illustrious, even mythic pedigree? Anyhow, Wikipedia has it all properly cited here:…
Posted by Rx on September 19, 2012 at 5:03 PM · Report this
Sweeney Agonistes 18
@9: My pleasure. I think about them every couple of months and cackle.

@16: This'n here.…
Posted by Sweeney Agonistes on September 19, 2012 at 5:48 PM · Report this

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