Ever wonder how that smiley face we all know and love (or have some feelings about one way or another) was brought to life? The emoticon, which turned 20 in September, started as a way to clear up miscommunication.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University were making good use of online bulletin boards, posting job information, announcements and, of course, jokes. However, some sarcastic comments were getting taken too seriously and there was some discussion as to how jokes should be marked.
Some suggested *, others liked &, but Scott Fahlman struck gold with :-). At the time he also suggested the use of 🙁 to indicate a more serious comment, but that was soon taken to mean anger, frustration or displeasure. Thus the emoticon was born.
On Fahlman’s Web site he says that within a few months emoticons had spread to other universities and beyond.
Fahlman notes on his Web site that other people have claimed to invent the sideways smile, but he remains firm that the “turn your head to one side” principle was one of his making.
He does admit it is plausible that rumours of 🙂 being used by teletype operators are true. “The smiley idea may have appeared and diappeared a few times before my 1982 post, but it is pretty clear from the timing that my suggestion was the one that finally took hold, spread around the world and spawned thousands of variations,” Fahlman states on his Web site.