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First Emoticon: 1648?

April 16, 2014, 5:11 pm

Everything is older than you think it is:

We interrupt our blogging of Daniel Deronda to share breaking news: In reading some of Robert Herrick’s poetry last night, I discovered what looks to be the first emoticon! It appears at the end of the second line of “To Fortune,” which was published in Hesperides in 1648

Here’s a scan of the original printing:

Tofortune png CROP promovar mediumlarge

Only, no, probably not. As Ben Zimmer at Slate points out, punctuation inside parentheses was fairly common in the 17th century, and there are numerous examples of colons appearing just before a parenthetical close.

So, entertaining as it might be, it seems that Herrick didn’t use the first emoticon.

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