NYTimes' Alex Williams uses the widespread use -- some would say indiscriminate and inappropriate use ;-) -- of emoticons to dig a little into their origins:
Though we think of emoticons, or “smileys,” as an Internet-era phenomenon, their earliest ancestors were created on typewriters. In 1912, the writer Ambrose Bierce proposed a new punctuation device called a “snigger point,” a smiling face represented by \__/!, to connote jocularity.
The first commonly acknowledged use of the contemporary emoticon was in 1982. Scott Fahlman, a research professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, was linked to an electronic university bulletin board where computer enthusiasts posted opinions on matters as divisive as abortion and mundane as campus parking.
In one thread, a wisecrack about campus elevators was misinterpreted by some as a safety warning, so Dr. Fahlman suggested using :-) as a way to indicate jokes and :-( for remarks to be taken seriously (the latter quickly morphed into a signifier of displeasure).
Here are a few 'extended' emoticons that I learned for the first time. They look okay only with serif fonts, so let me see if I can wing it:
- This is for Homer Simpson:~(_8^(I)
- And this one is for Ronald Reagan: 7:^]