Happy Birthday To The First Emoticon, Which Turns 40 Years Old

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Image ID 8270296 © via Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime.com

Feel old yet? Well, it seems the first emoticon—the good ol’ smiley—which sparked an age of internet chatrooms, comments, text messages, and messaging apps, turns 40 years old this week.

According to Gizmodo, the several keystrokes that would come together to form the world’s first smiley was crafted by Professor Scott E Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University, who on September 19, 1982, posted the character onto the school’s online bulletin board. 


“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 :-(,” he wrote. 

While these simple emoticons gradually gained popularity as the internet made its way into homes around the globe in the 90s, more options became available when wingdings were developed in 1990, allowing for pictographic representations of common symbols. 

Users were now able to depict various expressions, an arrow, or even an airplane with just a single keystroke. 

Elsewhere, like in Japan, other forms of emoticons—known as Kaomoji—were developed from the 80s to the 90s, allowing those in chatrooms to communicate emotions through various combinations of characters, though in this case, they didn’t need to be read sideways. 

Emojis quickly became a mainstay of Japanese culture, with SoftBank releasing 90 character emoticons together with its mobile phone offering in 1997, which was then expanded with Docomo’s 176-character set. 

However, as per CNN, it wasn’t till the formation of Unicode that emojis became more prevalent around the globe, standardizing the use of these characters across multiple platforms in 2010. 

Apple was the first to add an official emoji keyboard to its smartphones in 2011, which saw the popularity of the little yellow symbols explode, so much so that the face with tears emoticon was named Oxford Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’ in 2015. 

Now, there are over 3,000 emojis in the Unicode collection used worldwide, though it’s expected for the yearly updates to slowly expand this over time to include even more characters as internet culture evolve and users petition for more inclusive emoticons.

[via Gizmodo and CNN, cover image via Alain Lacroix | Dreamstime.com]

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