The Smiley (), a face made up of a circle, two eyes and a smiling mouth with no nose, is a symbol invented in the 1960s. In the film Forrest Gump it was claimed, tongue in cheek, that Forrest had invented the Smiley - in actual fact it was invented by a Mr Harvey R Ball. It was usually drawn in black and yellow and (as much as the Peace or Ban the Bomb signs) it was a symbol of the hippy generation. Sadly, Mr Ball passed away in Massachusetts on April 4, 2001. His obituary can be found here.
So much a part of American culture was the smiley symbol that when IBM produced the first personal computer, they included a smiley in the character set, although by some accounts it was hard to display the character easily.
A fascinating thread from an 1980s educational bulletin board exists, claiming ownership of the emoticon (the ASCII symbol that represents the smiley). It seems to be posted as part of a Microsoft BBoard1 but at the same time is more likely to be a university 'intranet'. It turns out to be part of a long Carnegie-Mellon University bulletin board thread started around 1982. After several attempts in the thread at comedy, including a physics puzzle that lead to the evacuation of an entire elevator system2, the need for a 'humour' symbol was established...
As a result of the above, and other 'humorous' posts, the need for some kind of header that alerted people to the joke was obvious. Not only that, but it was suggested that a symbol for serious communication was needed too! The first suggestions put forward were the percent '%', for humour, and asterisk '*' for something serious. As it turned out, these were not funny enough and were too hard to remember. The ampersand '&' was also considered, since it 'looks like a laughing fat man' and hash '#' supposedly resembles the teeth of a grin. It was also suggested that the hash symbol is what someone would look like if they 'laughed their heads off'. Finally, on 19 September, 1982, at 11.44am, a gentleman named Scott E Fahlman suggested the famous: :-) and :-( Also proposed were: (-: and )-:which can be interchanged with their reverse cousins in this thread (only fair for all the left handed typists out there). It would appear that someone else, sadly not identified, named the former a 'smiley' or 'emoticon'. This does beggar the question though: what the other one be called? A 'frowny', perhaps?
Confirmation in the form of an encyclopedia entry states, in part:
(An) Emoticon is a synthetic portmanteau word based on 'emotion' and 'icon'. An emoticon, also called a smiley, is a sequence of ASCII characters used to represent a human face and express an emotion. Emoticons that express happy or positive emotions are typically classified as smileys... The creator of the original ASCII emoticons: :-) and :-( was Scott Fahlman.
It is interesting to note that part of the mark-up language3 of h2g2 automatically converts the: :-) symbol into the smiley . This was further complicated by the fact that when ':' was used, followed by '(' to denote the start of an HTML address, it was converted to !
It's nice, if somewhat bizarre, to know that the smileys of the world, in all their weird and wonderful variation, came from a few practical jokes based on a physics puzzle. Having said that, it is doubtful if the original owners will have foreseen the likes of: k:-0 ...the emoticon for 'Oh, my God! There's an axe in my head!', an important phrase that has been translated into 102 different languages here. All this humour derived from a simple qwerty keyboard and should give hope to all the dry, dusty scientists out there (not to mention their students)!
Now you know all about Smileys, don't forget to say 'Happy Birthday!' to the ASCII smiley (perhaps more properly the emoticon) on its next birthday. Not to mention a hearty 'Cheers!' to Mr Ball and Mr Fahlman.