Is This Smiley Face From 1648 The Very First Emoticon?

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Depending on who you're talking to, emoticons have been adding drama to our typefaces since 1982, possibly even as early as the late 1960s. But was the emoticon actually invented 300 years earlier by an English poet?

Over at The Atlantic Tech, they highlight Robert Herrick's 1648 poem "To Fortune", which Levi Stahl argues on his blog contains the very first instance of an emoticon ever. Immediately following the poet's assertion that he'll be "smiling yet" there it is: a tiny smiling face mashed-up out of a colon and a single parenthesis.

Tumble me down, and I will sit

Upon my ruins, (smiling yet:)

Tear me to tatters, yet I'll be

Patient in my necessity.

Laugh at my scraps of clothes, and shun

Me, as a fear'd infection;

Yet, scare-crow-like, I'll walk as one

Neglecting thy derision.

It's not a typo, Stahl explains, having checked for and found the smiley-face in multiple editions. Nor, he says, would it out of character with his poetry to include a witty aside for careful readers.


Are we looking at the first emoticon ever, or is it merely the vagaries of 17th-century punctuation as interrupted by 21st century eyes?

Image via The Atlantic Tech