It was a serious contribution to the electronic lexicon.
Twenty-five years ago, three keystrokes - a colon followed by a hyphen and a parenthesis - were first used as a horizontal “smiley face” in a computer message by Carnegie Mellon University professor Scott E. Fahlman, the university said.
To mark the anniversary Wednesday, Fahlman and his colleagues are starting an annual student contest for innovation in technology-assisted, person-to-person communication. The Smiley Award, sponsored by Yahoo Inc., carries a $500 cash prize.
Language experts say the smiley face and other so-called emoticons, or emotional icons, have given people a concise way of expressing sentiments in e-mail and other electronic messages that otherwise would be difficult to detect.
Fahlman posted the emoticon in a message to an online electronic bulletin board at 11:44 a.m. on Sept. 19, 1982, during a discussion about the limits of online humor and how to denote comments meant to be taken lightly.
“I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: ,” wrote Fahlman. “Read it sideways.”
The suggestion gave computer users a way to convey humor or positive feelings with a smile - or the opposite sentiments by reversing the parenthesis to form a frown.
Carnegie Mellon said the smileys spread from its campus to other universities, businesses and eventually around the world as the Internet gained popularity. Variations, such as the “wink” that uses a semicolon, emerged later.