The digital emoticon, the representation of a facial expression made by using letters and punctuation marks – and read sideways – turns 30 today.
A computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, named Scott Fahlman wrote three decades ago, “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-)”
The use of emoticons, however, go back as far the 19th century, and have been used in casual and humorous writing. It’s the digital form of emoticons that Fahlman proposed on 19 September 1982 that we now know today:
Within a few months, Fahlman’s emoticons had spread to the ARPANET and Usenet. Many variations on emoticons were then suggested by Fahlman and others. Nowadays, it’s virtually impossible to avoid emoticons online, in email and in text messages.
“It has been very interesting to watch the infectious spread of the smiley face and the ‘turn your head sideways’ principle from my first message, through the local research community, on to other universities, and then around the world as the internet spread into people’s homes,” Fahlam told Paul McNamara of Buzzblog on the emoticon’s 25th anniversary in 2007.