Language Log: The prehistory of emoticons

Language Log offers a thorough discussion of the real story of the emoticon.

Before seeing the Google Books page image, I had thought that Bierce’s suggested punctuation looked like this: \___/. That’s how it appears in a footnote to Andrew Graham’s online essay, “Forked Tongue: The Language of Serpent in the Enlarged Devil’s Dictionary of Ambrose Bierce,” as well as the Wikipedia entry on emoticons. It’s interesting to discover that the parenthesis-as-smile representation actually goes back 120 years. (In Ambrose Bierce’s Civilians and Soldiers in Context: A Critical Study, Donald T. Blume dates this essay to September 25, 1887, but the version published in the 1912 collection may have been subsequently revised.)

The pre-Fahlman trail included a 1979 reference an idea from a Reader’s Digest article the author had read “long ago.”  I actually once sent a grad student to the library to look for this article, but he came back empty-handed. (I think I asked him to look from 1970 on, which explains why he didn’t find the right article, which was published in 1962,

I’m glad someone has tied all those loose ends together…

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