We have so many friends who can’t wait to recite lines from the poet Robert Herrick when we sit down to drink a beer, particularly his best-known book of poems, Hesperides (#noteverinourlifetimebutweshouldreadhisworks).

Yet we owe a lot to Mr. Herrick, who arguably created the first-ever emoticon, the precursor of today’s emojis back in 1648.

It went like this in the second line of his poem titled “To Fortune”.

Tumble me down, and I will sit
Upon my ruins, (smiling yet:)

Fast forward a few hundred years and this other guy we HAVE heard of, Charles Darwin, became the first individual to suggest that facial expressions of emotion are the same around the globe—that they are innate.

In 1972, Dr. Paul Ekman, a psychologist and innovator in understanding human emotion, described the six universal emotions — happiness, surprise, sadness, anger, disgust and fear.  We all realized the power of a visual expression.

Then, poetry and psychology were replaced by keyboards, at least in their emoticon-related impact.  Carnegie Mellon University, Professor Scott Fahlman, created the first smiley emoticon back in September 1982.  Thank you for trying to humanize email Scott.  At least you tried.

Professor Fahlman was motivated to help people laugh on the university’s bulletin board, who didn’t know when to laugh.  When geeks learned they could become comedians via keyboards, whoa….an industry was born.

What we learned was surprising to both of us.

Emojis are more than a millennial messaging fad. They are a language that has been developed for centuries.  If we have 8300 languages in our world, we should consider this one of them.

Emojis represent the first, but certainly not the last, language born of the digital world.


Brittany and Bob

This blog post was co-authored by Bob Pearson, Senior Advisor of W2O.

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