Smiley-face comes of age

A real smiley-faceA real smiley-faceGuess what anniversary you probably just missed. Why of course, the (presumed) 25th anniversary of this little fun guy: :-).

Yep, the geekazoid lollerchat textutal smileyface - and the Poorhouse bets you didn't even buy it a token gift and card, let alone something expensive enough to make up for your abuse of him throughout the past quarter century.

Scott Fahlman is claiming first-documented-use of it, in a message he wrote on an online bulletin (children, be afraid: this was before mainstream web access) back on the 19th September 1982. Many happy returns.

Because it is such a vital thing in day-to-day conversation, he and his buddies spent years looking through aged old backup tapes to retrieve the message. It was produced as a suggestion to solve the problem it assists with to this day - to quote master creator:

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.

There is of course the additional nu-skool use of a get-out when you really want to insult someone but are too wimpy to not include a get-out-of-trouble clause; e.g. "Dear Boss. You suck ass more than my Dyson :-)" but that's a product of subsequent post-ironic generations or other such meaningless string of long words no doubt.

So how did it make its debut into the great wide e-world? Like this:

19-Sep-82 11:44    Scott E  Fahlman             :-)
From: Scott E  Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>
I propose that the following character sequence for joke markers:
Read it sideways.  Actually, it is probably more economical to mark
things that are NOT jokes, given current trends.  For this, use

In fact you can read the whole conversation thread it was brought up in, should you choose to do so, which includes such highlights as:

03-Oct-82 21:47    Wilson Harvey at CMU-IUS     For anyone interested ...
I have a picture of ET holding a chainsaw in .press file format.  The file
exists in /usr/wah/public/ on the IUS.

Well, who wouldn't be?

As you can see from the post above, the sad-face was the second smiley invented by Fahlman, although at that point it was designed to mean "this is serious" rather than the modern day sadness, despair and/or misery. The Poorhouse is not quite sure when certain other smilies came into existence, not even the infamous 8===D one.

Says Fahlman, clearly not understanding that even those of us without Professorships do have the power of simplistic mental visualisation (or at least the Poorhouse has never actually seen anyone crunching their neck into a right angle, bemused by what on earth these weird sideways symbols can mean):

I sometimes wonder how many millions of people have typed these characters, and how many have turned their heads to one side to view a smiley, in the 25 years since this all started.


Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <blockquote> <del> <p>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • You may post code using <code>...</code> (generic) or <?php ... ?> (highlighted PHP) tags.
  • You may use [acidfree:xx] tags to display acidfree videos or images inline.
  • Images can be added to this post.

More information about formatting options

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
16 + 0 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.