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Why is dingbat used to refer to characters such as "☺"?

(See for instance those at the Mozilla Web Developer FAQ.)

Doesn't dingbat mean a stupid person or something?

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There is a correlation between the two if you think about it... – Daniel Jul 22 '11 at 12:05
up vote 10 down vote accepted

A dingbat is "an ornamental piece of type for borders, separators, decorations, etc." as well as a silly person. The fonts are called dingbat fonts because they contain such characters.

The word's etymology leads me to believe that it is a generic word, akin to widget, doohickey, and thingamajig.

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Dingbat is a typographical device other than a letter or numeral (such as an asterisk), used to signal divisions in text or to replace letters in a euphemistically presented vulgar word.

ORIGIN mid 19th cent. (in early use applied to various vaguely specified objects): origin uncertain; perhaps based on obsolete ding [to beat, deal heavy blows.]

I also think that the correlation with its other sense (a stupid or eccentric person) is rather apparent.

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protected by RegDwigнt Sep 19 '12 at 9:52

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