Surely you've used emoticons before, or at least encountered them while surfing the Intertubes, but did you know that they've been around since the 1800s? Or that a computer scientist came up with the smiley emoticon? Here are 10 Things You Didn't Know About Emoticons:
1. The Oldest Emoticons
The first emoticons were published on March 30, 1881 by (the now defunct) US satirical magazine Puck. If you want to read that edition, Wikimedia has the scan: Link
2. The Abraham Lincoln Emoticon
In 2004, a team from the digital archival company Proquest stumbled across what could be an even older example of an emoticon in print ... in the transcription of a 1862 speech by President Lincoln, no less!
A flurry of "yes, that's an emoticon" and "no, that's a typo, you dufus" by emoticon experts quickly ensued. NY Times reporter Jennifer 8. Lee has the story: Link
And if you were wondering, yes "8" is Jennifer's middle name. She was born without a middle name, and chose "8" as a teenager because of the ubiquity of her first name.
3. The First Internet Emoticon
On September 19, 1982, Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Scott Fahlman introduced the very first sideway smiley on an online message board to distinguish serious posts from jokes.
4. Western vs. Eastern Emoticons
Like hip hop, emoticons have geographical styles; there are western emoticons and eastern emoticons. Western ones are read sideways (from left to right) whereas eastern style emoticons are read upright. It's easier to explain with examples:
5. Emoticon Statistics
In 2007, a Yahoo! surveyed 40,000 Yahoo! Messenger users and found that 82% of them used emoticons in their IM conversations. 83% said that "happiness" and "flirting" are the two emotions (flirting is an emotion?) they expressed most by using emoticons. 57% said that they would rather tell a "crush" their true feelings with emoticons rather than - gasp - words.
Yahoo! Messenger users are pretty dedicated to their emoticons: 66% of them had memorized the text characters for 3 or more emoticons. 19% of them had memorized more than 10. (Source)
6. Evolution of Emoticons
Driven by instant messaging programs like Yahoo! Messenger, Windows Live Messenger, AIM and ICQ, emoticons quickly evolved from text smileys into more complex, animated graphics.
Yahoo! Messenger even got a set of "hidden" emoticons that you won't find in the menu, but can be "activated" by typing the keyboard shortcuts:
Even Gmail got in the game - they added "emoji" (Japanese for graphical emoticons). If you want them for your Gmail account, simply go to Settings > Labs, then enable "Extra Emoji."
7.Assicons & Boobiecons
Since emoticons are so great, why limit oneself to faces? Thus assicons* and boobiecons were born.
Examples, my friends, are warranted - strictly in the name of science, mind you (source).
There is also the elusive penicon. You can guess what that is all about. If you're interested (naughty!) you can Google that yourself, mmkay?
*Indian readers beware: the salacious assicon above is not to be confused with ASSICON, or the unfortunately named Annual Conference of Association of Spine Surgeons of India (ASSI).
8. Trademarking the Emoticon
In 2000, Despair Inc., the company that came up with the witty "de-motivational" products, trademarked :-( or the frowny emoticon. Despite the tongue-in-cheek nature of the mock press release (Despair's COO Dr. E.L. Kersten threatened to sue 7 million individual Internet users who have used the frowny emoticon in emails), the company got a lot of real flack.
Not to be outdone, Russian entrepreneur Oleg Teterin decided to trademark ;-) or the wink emoticon in Russia. In an television interview, Oleg said:
9. Driving LED EMoticon
Think that you can only use emoticons on the Intertubes? Think again! Here's a battery powered LED emoticon for your car, so you can tell the people stuck behind you how you really feel: Link
If emoticons are expressions of emotions put in simple text format, what is the reverse process? New Jersey-based multimedia artist Dan Wade takes emoticons and "emote" them out ...
This one to the left is his impression of the wink emoticon. You can see a whole lot more at his website: Link
Bonus: LOLcat Emoticons
What do you get when you combine emoticons with the LOLcat meme? This awesomeness below, of course!