English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

I don't mean the set of smileys we use today which are surely a result of the keys on a keyboard.

What I do mean is: In casual conversation before the creation of the personal computer, did people who wrote letters or notes have the ability to attach an emotion to things that they wrote in a simple way?

For example, today I might write:

Don't worry about it :)

which establishes very many things in very concise way.

Did the writers of the past have some mechanism for doing this, or did they write out everything?

share|improve this question
up vote 7 down vote accepted

I recall from childhood seeing hand-drawn smiley faces and "xxoo" (meaning hugs and kisses) adorning letters. It's close, but I don't think it has quite the same connotations. Certainly it was not as widespread.

Wikipedia has some additional information on emoticon antecedents. An interesting one, I found, was:

The National Telegraphic Review and Operators Guide in April 1857 documented the use of the number 73 in Morse code to express "love and kisses" "<3 and :*" (later reduced to the more formal "best regards")

The Very Long History of Emoticons has some interesting tidbits about how they came about, and brings up the interesting idea that they are just the latest evolution in punctuation marks.

The history of punctuation is precisely the history of using symbols to denote tone and voice. Seen in this way, emoticons are simply the latest comma or quotation mark.

From this point of view, was '!' the first emoticon? :)

share|improve this answer
Aren't you forgetting about this one? – Unreason Nov 21 '11 at 10:18
Very interesting! Thanks. – Jeremy Nov 21 '11 at 15:52

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.