It is time to give the emoticon the praise it deservesby Sam Leith / October 23, 2012 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2012 issue of Prospect Magazine
30 years after it was invented, the smiley still serves a valuable purpose
🙂 and the world :-)s with you. This was the discovery made 30 years ago this autumn by Scott Fahlman, a professor in the computer science department of Carnegie Mellon University in the US, when he proposed that humorous posts on his departmental message board be marked with a sideways smiley face to make clear that they were intended as jokes.
He has been credited with inventing the emoticon. Now, the blessed things are everywhere. The computer I’m typing this on, indeed, had to have its autocorrect nobbled to prevent it automatically turning the opening three characters of my article into a yellow smiley face.
I mention this because the other day I was asked onto the radio to talk about emoticons to mark their 30th birthday. In the course of that discussion—a rather brief discussion, I should say, and a confusing one because when nervous on live radio I will tend to yelp odd words like “disambiguate” and make myself sound like a Dalek semiotician—I said that emoticons had spread like knotweed and the best way to use them was “sparingly.”