This month marks the 30th anniversary of emoticons introduction to modern language.
The emoticons even have a birth-date that can be traced to an exact moment: 11:44 a.m. on the 19th of September 1982, which was when Professor Scott Fahlman of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh sent an email with a sideways smiley face.
The aim of their creation by Scott Fahlman was clear – he wanted to avoid confusion over the tone of emails that were meant to be humorous and those that were not meant to be.
Seeing how jokes and emails that were not meant to be funny were misunderstood, Scott Fahlman wrote in his email: “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: 🙂 Read it sideways.”
Amazed at how his creation took off, Scott Fahlman admitted that there was a certain playfulness in his suggestion.
“This was a little bit of silliness that I tossed into a discussion about physics,’ said the professor who still works at Carnegie Mellon.
“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.”
However, the note spread across the fledgling computer networks of the early 1980s and within months the usage of smiley faces had become global.
Today, emoticons are everywhere, with variations as little yellow computer graphics with faces that visibly express emotions by actually smiling, frowning or laughing.
Prof. Scott Fahlman does not like them.
“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,” said Scott Fahlman to The Independent.
“But perhaps that’s just because I invented the other kind.”
The professor unfortunately could not retrieve the original email from the university records and has faced claims that he was not the first to invent them.
So in 2002, an engineer from Microsoft went back through the back-up tapes and uncovered the original email.
However, some people have uncovered an edition of the New York Times from 1862 which has a transcript of a speech by Abraham Lincoln which contained a ;-), which sent conspiracy theorists into overdrive debating whether it was a typo or not.