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Thu, 11 Oct 2007

Reverse smileys

Kristian Hermansen sent an email to the San Francisco Linux Users Group list expressing shock at my "reverse smileys". Others have, too, so let me take a moment to explain.

Some time around 1995, I started using AOL. (I also stopped some time in the same century.) I learned important vocabulary like "a/s/l" and "rofl" and PC Magazine sent me a free mousepad with Windows 95 hotkeys like "Windows+R" for the Run dialog box. Then our free month expired, and we went on to some other network.

Eventually I got into IM, and I started messaging friends routinely. I got into the habit of making complicated smileys - my favorite was Abe Lincoln: =|:-)= [source]. And some time later on, the smileys started getting turned into pictures. It may have been cool that :-) turned into a picture of a smiling yellow face, but I found it offensive that (a) they (AOL) started doing this without asking me, on other people's computers, so I had no idea how my emoticon was going to be displayed, and (b) that they would totally corrupt smileys like Mr. Lincoln.

So I retaliated. I came up with two counter-attacks. The first was the smartest: :-) would not get graphicalized, I realized. (View the source if it's not clear how that works.) That worked fine in media where I had rich formatting (HTML), but would fail me in emails. It was great for confusing my IMees, for whom it looked like a regular, old-school smiley, except all the other old-school smileys had gone away in favor of yellow circles with black lines and points.

The other way was more drastic and, instead of hiding between the lines, vocally made the point that not all smileys needed to be graphicalized. That was to reverse the smiley. I don't know when I started doing that, but it's probably some time between 1998 and 2000.

I also liked to abuse smileys to make grinning asides in emails. (-; You might wonder why asides needed to grin; usually they wink instead! ;-) I don't know if that idea came before or after I started making backwards smileys in the first place. I don't do this as much now in large part to me having seen Thunderbird turn my closing smileys into lame yellow things that ruin the symmetry.

One day during natural language processing, Jason Eisner said in class that he thought people who did the above thing (presumably without knowing I did it) were making an NLP joke. That added to the feeling that NLP was right up my alley.

All in all, smileys have been a big part of my online life. It's only fitting that the EFF and They Might Be Giants contributed to this post.

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