Being Modern: Emoticons

This year marks an unusual 30th birthday. It was in 1982 that Scott Fahlman, a computer scientist at Pittsburgh's Carnegie Mellon University, suggested that users of his college's online messageboard combine a colon, hyphen and bracket to highlight sarcastic posts and curb misunderstandings. Thus, the online "smiley face" was born.

Since then, emoticons – symbols made from various parts of our computer keyboards to denote sentiment in digital communication – have themselves become an emotive subject. And if you are still confused, let's just say o_O (translation: "Are you serious?").

Such bastardisations are to punctuation what text acronyms are to vocabulary – and both made the Oxford English Dictionary last year, including OMG, LOL and <3 ("heart"). Proof that, in recent years, emoticons have become a standard communication tool.

But to many they are still the punctuation equivalent of the Comic Sans font or a "wacky" tie: crass. This isn't helped by the fact that mobile phones now aggressively convert certain punctuation sequences into garish images of faces grinning, winking or frowning without one's consent. The writer Lynne Truss (whose Eats, Shoots & Leaves has the subtitle "The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation") perhaps unsurprisingly considers emoticons "disrespectful to sentences". And it's true that writers such as Jane Austen managed to convey wit, doubt and surprise without them. They, though, had the luxury of using long sentences, while we live in an era in which news increasingly finds itself broken down into 140-character missives. So perhaps it is time for the pedants to change.

If only because we need to put our glasses on to decipher them, few adults would argue for complex examples such as \m/>_<\m/ ("rockin' out" – keep looking, you'll get it eventually). Yet, love or loathe emoticons, this creative invention of a globally understandable new language is, in fact, an incredible and brilliantly democratic feat. Now, where are those glasses ;-)

Arts and Entertainment
tvSPOILER ALERT: Like a mash-up of 28 Days Later, Braveheart, The Killing and Lord of the Rings, this GoT episode was a belter
Life and Style
Angel Di Maria is shown the red card
Roger Federer after his win over Tomas Berdych
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Gadgets & Tech

    Recruitment Genius: Lead Developer - ASP.Net / C# / MVC / JavaScript / HTML5

    £55000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is looking for a Lea...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

    £45000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An IT Support Engineer is requi...

    Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer

    £18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st / 2nd Line IT Support Technician

    £20000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a small IT consultancy...

    Day In a Page

    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific
    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    In this the person to restore our trust in the banks?

    Dame Colette Bowe - interview
    When do the creative juices dry up?

    When do the creative juices dry up?

    David Lodge thinks he knows
    The 'Cher moment' happening across fashion just now

    Fashion's Cher moment

    Ageing beauty will always be more classy than all that booty
    Thousands of teenage girls enduring debilitating illnesses after routine school cancer vaccination

    Health fears over school cancer jab

    Shock new Freedom of Information figures show how thousands of girls have suffered serious symptoms after routine HPV injection
    Fifa President Sepp Blatter warns his opponents: 'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    'I forgive everyone, but I don't forget'

    Fifa president Sepp Blatter issues defiant warning to opponents
    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report

    Weather warning

    Extreme summer temperatures will soon cause deaths of up to 1,700 more Britons a year, says government report
    LSD: Speaking to volunteer users of the drug as trials get underway to see if it cures depression and addiction

    High hopes for LSD

    Meet the volunteer users helping to see if it cures depression and addiction
    German soldier who died fighting for UK in Battle of Waterloo should be removed from museum display and given dignified funeral, say historians

    Saving Private Brandt

    A Belgian museum's display of the skeleton of a soldier killed at Waterloo prompts calls for him to be given a dignified funeral