10 Things You Didn't Know About Emoticons :)

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!

Photo: New York Times

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.

Since then, Fahlman is known as the "father of the smiley." Links: Transcript of the posts (as retrieved from a backup tape by Jeff Baird in 2002) | The Smiley :-) Lore

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:

(T_T) crying face

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).


a regular ass (_!_) regular boobies (o)(o)
a fat ass (__!__) big boobies ( O )( O )
a tight ass (!) perky boobies ( ' ) ( ' )
a dumb ass (_?_) saggy boobies ( , ) ( , )
a smart ass (_E=mc2_) silicon boobies ( $ )( $ )

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:

"I want to highlight that this is only directed at corporations, companies that are trying to make a profit without the permission of the trademark holder," he said in comments to NTV.

Companies will be sent legal warnings if they use the symbol without his permission, he said.

"Legal use will be possible after buying an annual license from us," he was quoted by Kommersant as saying. "It won't cost that much - tens of thousands of dollars." (Source)

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

10. Emoticonman

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: http://www.danwade.com/emoticon/animatedgif1.html

Bonus: LOLcat Emoticons

What do you get when you combine emoticons with the LOLcat meme? This awesomeness below, of course!

That Boobiecon seems to be popular from the Alliance on my server in World of Warcraft when they translate their speech into horde. I also had a crash course in learning Asian emoticons while playing Ragnarok Online way back when someone attacked and killed my target then typed (T_T). In World of Warcraft the latest mockery sad face emote is QQ to represent sad eyes. And one more thing, paladins are douche bags.
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I really enjoyed this post, thanks -- I even learned something. Assicons and boobiecons? I feel both enlightened and reassured that humanity is going to make it after all. (^_^)
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It's probably worth noting that the examples given in #4 aren't used so much by actual Asian people as much as by white people who wish they were Asian. (^^) and m(_ _)m are roughly the most common ones in Japan among normal people. Computer-nerdy types tend to use the expanded character set provided by the double-byte characters required for a language that needs more than 256 different characters in a font, so Cyrillic letters show up a lot, such as (,,???).
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Stupid comment-box encoding not working properly for double-byte whatnots. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2channel_Shift_JIS_art has plenty of examples of hardcore Japanese emoticon action.
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Once I was trying to find a cool emoticon for sending a flirting and cute hug to my girl on the other side of the IM. So I come out with this one I've never seen before, may e it'snot fully mine, but well, is completely true: send a hug o()o respond the hug, and if you want to be really together try doing this while watching movies o(o
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Excellent article!

I would like to add Skype's hidden emoticons to the list here... they are definitely the most daring:

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What great fun collection of history. I'd add worth seeing is the 3 Minute Story of Mixed Emoticons that Rives did at TED http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/rives_tells_a_story_of_mixed_emoticons.html
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There's one from way earlier in a source you wouldn't have imagined. The King James version of the Bible, in 1611 has an emoticon in I John 1:2
2(For the life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and shew unto you that eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us;)
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My daughter created <:3~ in honor of her rat.
I've also seen stuff like _oOOo_///(^c^)\\\_oOOo_ and
@(^o^)@. These things are so much fun to use and create. Thanks for posting this!
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Such a cute article! Never knew they had so much history or so many variations!
Especially loved the cat emoticons!!!
And i think its only fair that they put up the penicons when they put up the boobiecons(what's the emoticon for angry??)
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Love using the emoticons. Great way to brighten up the day when contacting friends. Very interesting post as I never knew who the founder of emoticons was. Cheers
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