The history of Emoticons

History of the Emoticon

🙂 The emoticon as we know today is much further than the basic symbols created by text.

These symbols, which seem to be just what we need to make up for the lack of facial expression in text for many people, have a long but quite fun history.

The first recorded use of the emoticon : – ) and : – ( online is in a text posted on the Carnegie Mellon University computer science general board on 19 September 1982 by computer scientist Scott E Fahlman.

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


: – (


However things go further back much before online communication

The original form on quick texting Morse code, had its own version of emoticons if you could call it that.

In the “The National Telegraphic Review and Operators’ Guide”, first published in 1857; the number 73 meant “my love to you”

In 1859, the Western Union Company set up the standard “92 Code.” A list of numerals from 1 to 92 was compiled to indicate a series of prepared phrases for use by the operators on the wires. 73 here became more formal and turned to “accept my compliments”.

73 like today’s emoticons kept on changing meaning, and today has been set to a simple “best regards” as a look back to older meanings.

Of course that isn’t exactly an emoticon, but it’s cool either way.

Going Back to what we know as emoticons;

As found by Barbara Mikkelson of; In May 1967’s edition of readers digest contains this article

Many people write letters with strong expression in them, but my Aunt Ev is the only person I know who can write a facial expression. Aunt Ev’s expression is a symbol that looks like this: —) It represents her tongue stuck in her cheek. Here’s the way she used it in her last letter: “Your Cousin Vernie is a natural blonde again —) Will Wamsley is the new superintendent over at the factory. Marge Pinkleman says they tried to get her husband to take the job —) but he told them he couldn’t accept less that $12,000 a year —)  “

Ambrose Bierce wrote a paper on writing reform where he proposed the snigger point, where he suggested new punctuation marks to show irony or humour. The passage bellow is from The Collected Works of Ambrose Bierce, Vol. XI: Antepenultimata (1912).




On 30 March 1881, four emoticons, described as typographical art, were published in American satirical magazine Puck.


This could be the first instance of emoticons being used purposefully in print.
However we could go deeper

The very first use of emoticon in print could be in a poem by Robert Herrick “To fortune” in 1648.


This however could have been easily a printing or typing error, or genuine use of punctuation; but the emoticon fits perfectly with the line doesn’t it?

Also in a transcript from the Newyork times of a speech of Abraham Lincoln written in 1862 there is another such colon. This also probably was a mere coincidence, but hey it’s fun to wonder isn’t it?



Going back to the present, after Scott E Fahlman’s suggestion to use emoticons to prevent confusion by using these in text based conversation, it spread to ARPANET and Usenet.

In Japan users popularized a kind of emoticon called kaomoji, also known as emoji, which can be understood without having to tilt out head to the left. This style rose in the ASCII net of japan in 1968.This includes the basic sign of annoyance (-_-) and the friendly smile (^_^)

After that there have been many changes to the emoticon legacy, and with now the introduction of “stickers” on social media it’s even more fun.


Now you may go back to texting that “XD” or “:/” or “-_-” emoticon to your friend.




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