The First :-)

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"You will know all about emoticons.  Emoticons are the proper name for smileys.  And a smiley is, famously, this:


Forget the idea of selecting the right words in the right order and channeling the reader's attention by means of artful pointing...Anyone interested in punctuation has a dual reason to feel aggrieved about smileys, because not only are they a paltry substitute for expressing oneself properly; they are also designed by people who evidently thought the punctuation marks on the standard keyboard cried out for an ornamental function."

-From pages 192-193 of Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss


Not only is it amazing that Truss included a section on emoticons, it is also amazing that my roommate's grandfather recently sent her a newspaper clipping about this exact topic.  The clipping article is called "Putting a face on computer writing" and was written by Daniel Lovering of the Associated Press (the title of the newspaper was cut off, although I believe it is from a 2007 edition of  the Tribune Review).  In this article, Lovering identifies the man who started it all: "Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman."  Apparently, the very first record of this emoticon, according to Lovering, was " 11:44 a.m. on Sept. 19, 1982, during a discussion about the limits of online humor."  According to Lovering, Professor Fahlman said, " 'I propose the following character sequence for joke makers: :-).  Read it sideways.' "


I think that this is so funny.  A professor at nearby Carnegie Mellon was the first (known) person to create the online smiley face.  What's more, look at how this idea has spread around the world!  Almost everyone who has used the Internet knows this symbol.  I also think that for once Truss may be somewhat wrong here.  Yes, Mr. Fahlman was probably looking at the keyboard too long when he created this symbol; however as evidenced by the article, he was attempting to make text talking more understandable.  This is not a regression of the English language: it is an addition to it, or even-gasp!-a progression of it.  We must just remember that these symbols should be reserved to the Internet and phone texts, and they should never find their way into academic or formal writing.

P.S. I hate emoticons almost as much as Truss does, but take a look at what other people have to say about emoticons and other ideas from Eats, Shoots & Leaves.



Greta Carroll said:

Erica, I love your blog entry! It was very interesting. I did not realize the first emoticon was used by a professor at Carnegie Mellon. It would be really interesting to read even more about that topic besides what was in the newspaper article you read. He may have been the first to use one, but how did it get popularized? What made him think about making one in the first place? It is an interesting topic. And I definitely agree with you about Truss having it wrong. I agreed with most things she said, but I don’t find anything wrong with emoticons myself. I agree with you that: “This is not a regression of the English language: it is an addition to it, or even-gasp!-a progression of it.” And I wrote about much the same thing in my blog, if you want to check it out, here’s the link:

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