From the etchings on the walls of ancient caves to Shakespearean scripts, written communication has always aimed to capture the human essence. Yet, even as we’ve advanced, our written words often fall short in conveying full emotion.
The early alphabetic texts lacked punctuation, spaces, or even lowercase letters. This made deciphering Ancient Greek writings quite challenging. It was only around the 3rd century BC that the West embraced punctuation, a move Cicero, the great orator, believed was unnecessary. He felt that pauses should arise naturally from the rhythm of the text.
The spacing between words was introduced almost a millennium after punctuation became mainstream. The invention of the printing press then brought about standardization in grammar and punctuation. Aldo Manutius the Younger, in his early 1560s work, discussed the significance of punctuation in preserving meaning.
Fast-forwarding to the 1640s, Ben Jonson emphasized that punctuation wasn’t just for guiding reading but also to retain the author’s intent. Yet, as with all change, it had its critics.
But Where Do Emojis and Emoticons Fit in This Narrative?
These symbols have been around for a long time. A 4,000-year-old Hittite pot bore a smiley face, suggesting a pleased owner. Centuries later, in 1635, Ján Ladislaides of Slovakia added a smiley to his signature, perhaps to convey his enthusiasm for a document. Further examples litter history, like ambiguous smileys in Abraham Lincoln’s speech or Puck magazine in 1881.
Enter the digital age. In 1972, the PLATO IV system saw the genesis of emojis and emoticons. Contrary to common belief, the terms ’emoji’ (from Japanese meaning “picture character”) and ’emoticon’ (short for “emotion icon”) did not derive from each other.
Users of PLATO IV cleverly combined characters to create rudimentary depictions of emotions, leading to hundreds of symbol combinations. However, the explosion of the modern emoticon can be attributed to Dr. Scott E. Fahlman from Carnegie Mellon University. He suggested using “:-)” to denote jokes on an online message board, which rapidly gained traction.
This evolution continued into the 90s with emoticons crafted using fonts like Microsoft’s Wingdings. But it was Shigetaka Kurita in Japan who took a quantum leap, designing 176 emojis for the i-mode mobile internet system in 1999. These images allowed for precise expression within the system’s 250-character limit.
Today, emojis and emoticons are integral to our digital communications. Texting has overtaken voice calls, and platforms like email and social media amplify this. Critics argue that the rise of emojis and “chat speak” signifies the degradation of written language. Yet, linguists like Steven Pinker see emojis as punctuation for the digital age, adding layers of emotion otherwise absent in the text. As John McWhorter of Columbia University puts it, “Texting allows us to write as we speak.”
The Legacy of Chatspeak Before Modern Tech
When you think of “chatspeak”, your mind probably jumps to texting or online messaging. But guess what? Chatspeak has roots that go way before the era of smartphones and computers. Dive into the world of telegraph operators and Morse Code, and you’ll discover the first pioneers of concise communication.
The Telegraph’s Embrace of Chat Speak
Before there were emojis on your phone, telegraph operators were the first to understand the need for brevity. This wasn’t just for convenience – long messages were pricier. So, to be efficient and cost-effective, they created what you might call the first emoticons, albeit in beep form. So, the next time you’re tempted to criticize chatspeak, remember it’s been around for longer than you might think!
Dive into the Phillip’s Code
Your use of abbreviations like “BRB” or “LOL” isn’t so different from the telegraph operators’ shorthand. Take the “Phillip’s code”, introduced in 1879 by telegraph operator Walter P. Phillips. To save time, “YA” replaced “Yesterday” and “Tw” stood in for “Tomorrow”. Imagine receiving a telegraph message with “Ik” – a concise way of saying “Instantly killed”. Kind of feels like a phrase from a current video game chat, doesn’t it?
The First Emoticons in Morse Code
You might love using emojis to express your feelings, but telegraph operators had their emoticons in Morse Code. One notable example is the number 73. Initially, it conveyed “love and kisses”, but was later switched to the number 88. A nod to early emoticons that paved the way for the smileys in your messages today!
Abbreviations That Have Stood the Test of Time
You may be familiar with terms like “POTUS” when discussing the President of the United States. But did you know that this abbreviation, and others like “SCOTUS” for the Supreme Court of the United States, originated from Phillip’s code? It’s fascinating how some abbreviations have seamlessly transitioned into modern-day language.