How many emoticons have you used today? Perhaps a 🙂 in an email or a 😉 in a text? Would you be able to express yourself without them?

Whether you love or loathe them, emoticons (coming from ‘emotion’ + ‘icon’), or smiley faces, are commonly used to express emotion when we don’t have body language, facial expression or voice tone to help make our meaning clear. But who came up with the idea?

Almost thirty years ago, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh attempted to solve the problem of making it clear when posts on the university’s online bulletin board were humorous, after seeing how simple jokes were often misinterpreted. On 19 September 1982 Professor Scott Fahlman posted “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: 🙂 Read it sideways.”

The professor never could have guessed what happened next. His message spread to other universities and research labs, and within months his smiley face had spread throughout the world.

There are those who claim the emoticon was already in use before 1982, but without any evidence of this Professor Fahlman deserves to be known as the father of emoticons.