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1982, Origin Of The Smiley

Like many others, I wondered who invented the :-) smiley and started looking for an answer.

Professor Scott E. Fahlman did in 1982, in a message he wrote on the CMU CS bulletin board system.

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

Source: Mickael B. Jones’ research page.

Bonus chatter: The Mystery of J.

Did you ever notice a stray J at the end of an email? Chances are high the message has been authored in Microsoft Outlook.

Microsoft Outlook relies on the WingDings font to display the :-) smiley. However, the code point assigned to the smiling face glyph in that font is U+004A (latin capital letter J) instead of U+263A.

In the process of delivering emails, many things can happen:

  • the font metadata may get skipped/lost, e.g. when emails are sent as plain text
  • email clients may be configured to read emails as plain text
  • the WingDings font may be missing on the operating system
  • email clients may fail to use or decide to ignore the WingDings font altogether

As a consequence, you end up seeing a J, simple as that.

Source: Raymond Chen’s blog.

Recently, I even spotted that J in a blog post on the VC++ blog, and the author confirmed she used Microsoft Word to write her post. Who said technology was simple?