Gee Whillickers!

The First Text Smiley

The smiley 🙂 and its many variants are making their punctuated way into the fabric of our society, flavoring plain text with emotions. The smiley has been in widespread use since the early ’80s, when it was first proposed.

After a significant effort to locate it, the original post made by Scott Fahlman was retrieved from an October, 1982, backup tape of a computer bulletin board at Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science. Here is the original post:

19-Sep-82 11:44 Scott E Fahlman     🙂
From: Scott E Fahlman <Fahlman at Cmu-20c>

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


Some unusual spinoffs

( 8(|)     (Homer)

=|:-)=     (Lincoln)

@==|     Bomb

5:-)     Elvis

===:}     Snake

d:-J     Pitcher

@>->-     Rose

[8|]     Robot

(:~}     Geezer

A Little E-mail Never Hurt Anyone

Sometime in late 1971, a computer engineer named Ray Tomlinson sent the first e-mail message. “I sent a number of test messages to myself from one machine to the other,” he recalled. “The test messages were entirely forgettable…. Most likely the first message was QWERTYUIOP or something similar.” (The first row of alpha characters on a keyboard).


Penny for Your Stamp

The Penny Black and Penny Post were the brainchild of Sir Rowland Hill, a schoolmaster often called the father of the modern post office.

In 1837 he would revolutionize the letter service with the proposition of pre-paid postage. Previously the postage due was paid by the recipient.

1839: An original sketch of the Penny Black made by Rowland Hill.

Two years later he was appointed to the Treasury to begin work on introducing the postal changes. The Treasury invited the public to submit suggestions for the design of the gummed labels which Hill proposed.

Suggestions poured in. One in particular addressed their fears of counterfeit, that the labels should bear “a female head of great beauty” because a portrait would be more difficult to copy—they couldn’t know the first forgeries would appear only shortly after the stamp was introduced.

1840: One Penny Black used May 1, first usage of postage stamp.

So it was that the profile of the then-18-year-old princess who would become Queen Victoria was developed into the finished design. Perkins Bacon & Petch, London, who had been given the contract to print the adhesive stamp, commissioned the artist Henry Corbould to make a number of profile drawings of the young Queen. Then Charles and Frederick Health, using the method called line-engraving, produced the image that would appear 240 times on the metal printer’s plate (there used to be 240 pennies in a pound).

Hill’s Penny Black stamp would pass across the moistened tongues of 72 million correspondents, firmly adhering itself to the dusty envelope of history.

Gee Whillickers!

@ll @bout th@t little squiggledeygoo thingy…

The @ symbol was chosen to be a separator in e-mail addresses by Ray Tomlinson in 1972 or so. In commerce, @ stands for “at the price of” as in “3 yards of lace for my lady @ a penny a yard.” Many Net users think of it only as “that letter a with the curly line round it.”

But leave it to the precise French: Agence France-Presse reports that the General Committee on Terminology officially gave a name to the @ sign used in e-mail addresses [on 9 Dec. ’02], dubbing it the “arobase” from an ancient Spanish measure that used the same symbol. According to the committee, the word “arobase” comes from “arrobe”—itself a derivative of the Arabic “ar-rub” meaning a quarter—an ancient unit of capacity and weight.

An Italian professor traced its use in the records of Italian merchants nearly 500 years ago. The sign was a handwritten letter A embellished in the typical Florentine script to represent one amphora, a measure based on the capacity of the standard terra-cotta jars used to transport grain and liquid about the Mediterranean.

Quite a history for a modest little symbol…