September 19 - Happy Birthday, Emoticons

Posted on September 19, 2018

Once upon a time there were pictures and text.

Then someone somewhere (and somewhen) realized that you could kind of make a picture with text:

These are called concrete poems.

Actually, there are many different sorts of pictures-made-from-text, especially now in the universe of computers...

But these pictures are large, dominating the text. The pictures require a lot of planning or effort. What Scott Fahlman did on this date in 1982 was to use, not letters and numbers, but punctuation, and instead of making big, splashy, complex pictures, he created subtle mini-pictures. 

Mini-pictures that helped us to understand the text.

This is what Fahlman invented on this date so long ago:

:-)  and  :-(

These first two "smileys" or emoticons were to be used, Fahlman suggested, to mark whether or not someone was joking or dead serious. He made the suggestion on the Carnegie Mellon message board. 

The word emoticon is a portmanteau of two words: emotion and icon. Of course, the first two smileys showed happy / smiling or serious / frowning emotions. 

Now, of course, there are a LOT of emoticons. Some emoticons don't actually depict emotions, but are just cute mini-pics created using punctuation, letters, or numbers.

After emoticons caught on, social media sites like Facebook started converting the punctuation we typed into mini-pictures like these:

And now we have emojis - and the multitudes of mini-pics we use in text messages, social media posts, and so forth have grown and grown.

Notice the difference between emoticons and emojis... Nowadays it's pretty rare to see the punctuation smileys!

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