The Current Logo

And then there is the Emoticon

Written by Kevin Hodgson
September 24, 2012

The emoticon — those little combinations of keystrokes to indicate an emotion — is sort of like the half-cousin to font typeset when it comes to type representing ideas, or in this case, emotion. The advent of technology, particularly the popularity of text messaging and the need for speed when sending a message in the shortest amount of letters, has raised the profile of the emoticon immensely.

There are references to emoticons in publishing as far back in the 1880’s, including this file in Puck magazine in 1881, but it is mostly recognized that the first person to really use the smiley face and digital emoticon in an online space is Scott Fahlman, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon University, who introduced it in in a thread of text between other researchers in 1982.

As Fahlman writes in his own history of the moment:

“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.

This problem caused some of us to suggest (only half seriously) that maybe it would be a good idea to explicitly mark posts that were not to be taken seriously.   After all, when using text-based online communication, we lack the body language or tone-of-voice cues that convey this information when we talk in person or on the phone.  Various “joke markers”  were suggested, and in the midst of that discussion it occurred to me that the character sequence 🙂 would be an elegant solution – one that could be handled by the ASCII-based  computer terminals of the day.  So I suggested that.  In the same post, I also suggested the use of  🙁  to indicate that a message was meant to be taken seriously, though that symbol quickly evolved into a marker for displeasure, frustration, or anger.”

And so now we turn to our keyboard to express our emotion, using font as another device to communicate with others reading our words.


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