from the NY Times, Pagan Kennedy (no, not a typo)
“The first line of my obituary is going to mention the smiley face,” says Scott Fahlman, who would rather be remembered for his research into artificial intelligence. But like it or not, Fahlman has become famous for three keystrokes. In 1982, as a young professor at Carnegie Mellon University, he realized the need for a symbol to temper the bickering that plagued online forums. The Internet was just a baby then, and yet already flame wars raged. Fahlman decided that a smiley face could be useful as a “joke marker” (as he called it) to take the sting out of mocking statements or pranks. And so he hunted around the keyboard for a way to make the face. “But what do you use for eyes?” he wondered. Once he found the colon, the rest was easy. He dashed his suggestion off to friends. “I didn’t even proofread the message,” he says.
The emoticon — perhaps one of the first online memes — spread to other campuses, hitching a ride in e-mails. And as the Web expanded in the ’90s, so, too, did the colon-hyphen-parenthesis. “Wherever the Internet went, the smiley face was there within weeks,” Fahlman says. The symbol has endured because it’s a quick way to soothe hurt feelings or express joy. But Fahlman still hears complaints that it is a hallmark of lazy writing. His critics tend to raise questions like “Would Shakespeare have used a smiley face?” Yes, Fahlman says, if Shakespeare were around today, thumb-tapping a screed “about parking at the Globe Theater, he might say something intemperate. And then he might think twice about it and want to use an emoticon.”
Tyler Schnoebelen, who has a Ph.D. in linguistics, analyzed millions of Twitter messages to understand how people use emoticons.
You found that about 10 percent of the tweets in your sample had emoticons in them. Why so many?
In a full paragraph, you might be able to express how you’re feeling. But it becomes harder in a tweet, where you only have a few words.
What is the difference between people who use 🙂 and people who use 🙂 ?
The people who use 🙂 follow a younger set of celebrities. They swear more, and they use spellings like “sooooo” and “loooove.”
What about 😉 ? Is it a flirt?
Yes, we can assume that. It tends to appear near words like “horny,” “attractive,” “hot” and “dirty.” It doesn’t occur near words like “pleasant” or “irritated.” The world of 😉 is sexy.
Do you use emoticons?
Actually, yes, I’ve become a connoisseur of them. I love the :))) — it’s like saying “I’m soooooooo happy.” But I don’t personally use that emoticon, because to me it looks like someone with multiple chins. And over the last year, I’ve been using the 😉 a lot.
So now that you’ve finished this research on the emoticon, you’re ;)-ing a lot?
Yes, now I do more flirting.
THE UNIVERSAL LANGUAGE?
Western-style emoticons often read from left to right, as “sideways faces.” Japanese thumb-typists, meanwhile, have invented their own system.
Bowing down in apology
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