The emoticon is 30 years old today—old enough to feel true ennui, and complain that now it will never be on a "30 under 30" list. :''''( Certainly old enough to make us all feel ancient, in comparison.
Emoticons have certainly had their ups and downs. The first recorded emoticon use was by Scott Fahlman, a Carnegie Mellon computer science guy, on this very day in 1982, at 11:44 a.m.. It was this: :-). Behold! A new language has been birthed! They then made their way onto the proto-internet, reaching a peak in the AOL chats, listservs, and message boards of the more obscure, nerd-based early internet. I feel like emoticons made the journey from the province of nerds to the province of overly-enthusiastic cheerleaders/chain email forwarding moms somewhere between 1996 and 2003-ish. By the time the first wave of personal blogs were becoming popular in the 00's, emoticons were considered declasse, suitable only for the LiveJournal crowd. But with the rise of text and twitter, and the stylishness of the emoji, emoticons have turned it back around. Nothing saves characters on a tweet like a perfectly-deployed o_0.
Wikipedia, unsurprisingly, has an extensive and culturally comprehensive article on the history and breadth of the world of emoticons, emoji, and ACSII art. I could never hope to equal the combined knowledge of the Wikipedia Editors on such an important topic, so I won't even try. Instead, something more personal. I would like to share with you some of my very most favorite obscure or difficult to parse emoticons.
Of course, difficulty is subjective. I'm probably too old to have the inborn ability to understand an emoticon without squinting for a moment. True emoticon story: the first time I saw a heart (<3) I felt sure it was somehow a butt that I wasn't fully able to make my eyes see correctly. Here, then, are 8 emoticons that live somewhere in the wilds of the internet, forever confusing most of the people who come across them:
1. ><(((*> Apparently, this is a fish. In case you need it. Usage example: LOL I'm at the beach LOL. ><(((*>
2. On a similar note, here is a squid: <コ:彡. Usage example: CALAMARI, BITCHEZ!!!! #yolo #<コ:彡
3. (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ Flipping a table over. Usage example: Hey, what's underneath this table??? (╯°□°）╯︵ ┻━┻ Oh, okay. Well, now I know.
4.Band-aid: (::( )::). Usage example: Gerrymandering is not going to fix the fundamental problems of the GOP. (::( )::) PS that is a band-aid, not two dominos surprised to see each other.
5. &:-o-8-< Betty Boop? Because that's her mouth, I guess? Then boobs? And the ampersand is her hair??? Usage example: Oh hey, this looks like the terrible tattoo that my mom has, of some lady from old time cartoons: &:-o-8-< Right? Kind of?
6. Crab: V.v.V I love this crab emoticon. So simple, so perfect. Don't blame me that there are so many seafood emoticons. I didn't make 'em up. Usage example: Turns out that it is true that you can get crabs in your eyelashes! Oops! V.v.V :(
7. 8==3 "Dog bone" Okay sure. A dog bone. Of course. And I guess this is a dog bone that is dripping wet with dog slobber? 8==3- - - Sure. Usage example: 8==3- - - - -
8. Lastly, an emoticon of my own invention: ; ( I call it "sexy sad." Some people might tell you that it is crying, but they are wrong. It is the conflicting desire to feel sad and seductive at the same time. Usage example: My husband died yesterday. I guess that means I'm single...; (