In conversation threads at H2G2, it has become somewhat common practice to use the popcorn smiley () as a punctuation mark. Specifically, it is used to break long posts into sections for easier digestion. The standard format, as used by many researchers, including H2G2 Honchos Mark Moxon1 and Peta2, is as follows:
...ramble ramble ramble etaoin shrdlu blah blah fnord. W potrzebie. Another sentence of whatever it is I'm talking about. Yo no soy marinero. Yo no soy marinero, soy capitan. Soy capitan, soy capitan.
New topic: Mister, would you please help my pony? He's over there behind the tree. He coughed up snot in the driveway. I think it's his lung. Mister, would you please help my pony? He's down, and he ain't getting up. He coughed up snot in the driveway, and I think his lung's f****d up...
...and so on. The popcorn is typically used to separate different subjects being addressed in the same post. It seems useful, the intent is usually clear, and it's more picturesque than a row of hyphens3 or something like that.
Reading back through posts made before the middle of the year 2001, this use of the popcorn smiley was basically non-existent. Long postings certainly existed, but their authors would either not break them up at all, or they would break them up with rows of hyphens or underscores, or occasionally with plain-text attempts at Subheaders.
I, GTBacchus, have been researching the history of the use of the popcorn smiley as punctuation.4 I believe that I have managed to trace its first few uses, during which its format evolved to its currently used state. Read on, if you dare!
April 25, 2001 - In a Peer Review Thread for an Entry (later edited - Edited version here) on Zeno's Paradox, in post #19, I used the popcorn smiley as punctuation. It was partly a separator, and partly an indication of embarassment/frustration. I didn't use the now-standard format, but this seems to be the very first usage of popcorn as punctuation.
May 12, 2001 - By now the Zeno's Paradox Entry was Edited, and I joined one of the threads attached to the Entry. I began post #6 with the popcorn smiley, and it appears that I was attempting to use it to communicate some kind of emotional state, maybe mild irritation. This was intended to come across from the fact that the popcorn is spilled. I don't know whether it worked.5
May 30, 2001 - Here's where it entered the
'Infamous Intelligence [sic] Thread'. On this day, in post #28, I used the popcorn smiley for the third time. This time, I ended my post with it, as a sort of signature. I think my intention was again to communicate a certain emotion, which I find it hard to describe now. In the previous post, I had committed the indiscretion of posting my IQ, according to a reasonably inaccurate online test. I had also, in that previous post, said something which had just been said anyway. I was experiencing Nietzschean shame, and just wanted to tip over a bag of popcorn and leave the room.
June 7, 2001 - Leave the room I did, for a week. Now on the same thread, post #63, you can see that I'm back in the fracas. I addressed Playboy Reporter for most of the post, and then for the last paragraph, I addressed a few other members of the thread. The popcorn came at the end of the last paragraph of PR's section, and not on it's own line. It doesn't seem, on this occasion, to be invested with the emotional weight with which I had tried to use it earlier. Just a separator - a popcorn break, if you will.
So later that day, in post #71, Lucinda used the popcorn smiley as punctuation. He used it really properly, as a separator, twice in this post. The first time is very close to the current usage, lacking only a blank line above the popcorn. The second time is spot-on. Lucinda, therefore, has the distinction of being the first to use the popcorn smiley in the currently accepted format.
June 8, 2001 - The next day, I was still using popcorn. Still in the intelligence thread, I posted #77, repeating, and therefore reinforcing, Lucinda's "correct" usage. On the same day, in the Peer Review System thread, which was a spin-off of the Intelligence Thread, I used it at the end of post #14, so you can see that the now-standard usage hadn't quite solidified.6
June 11, 2001 - Three days later, Subcom. Deidzoeb was playing with a similar usage in post #134 of the Intelligence thread, except he used a star smiley () instead of popcorn.7 Later that day, in post #146 of the same thread, Lucinda displayed a textbook example of correct popcorn usage.
June 12, 2001 - On this day, in the Peer Review System Thread, Lucinda used it properly again - post #119.
June 13, 2001 - On this day, in the Peer Review System Thread, Arpeggio (#160, #161, #163) and Barton (#168) picked up on the usage, although Arpeggio's uses were slightly non-standard8. Barton even made a comment on it: 'Too much ,' he wrote at the end of a particularly long post. This seems to be indicative of an interpretation that the popcorn dividers indicate breaks during which popcorn is consumed - a rather nice interpretation.
The rest is history? I have no idea how to conclude this bizarre Entry.