Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Monday, January 19, 2021

It’s either a transpositional typo, or else an extremely early example of the now-ubiquitous emoticon: The New York Times has stumbled upon the possible usage of the semicolon-parenthesis combo in its 1862 archives, for a transcription of a speech by Abraham Lincoln.

Here’s the speech snippet:

Fellow-Citizens: I believe there is no precedent for my appearing before you on this occasion, [applause] but it is also true that there is no precedent for your being here yourselves, (applause and laughter ; )

There’s a lengthy exploration of the possible interpretations. A lot of it is like a forensic hunt, taking into account the subtext at use 150 years ago, the distinction between using [brackets] versus (parentheses) to convey emotional reaction, the printing technology available, etc. Bottom line: It’s just as likely the long-anonymous typesetter slipped up as he was attempting to make a funny.

What’s missing from Jennifer 8. Lee’s dissection: Is it fair to assume that the in-line pairing of punctuation marks would register with 19th-Century readers the same way it does for us today?

We’re talking about visual language in culture, and our modern emoticons work because we “get” that : ) is supposed to represent two eyes and a smile. But how universal is that visual hint? I know some people who don’t really understand the way emoticons are supposed to work — specifically, why the “faces” are turned on their sides. It makes sense only if you type on a keyboard every single day; without that context, the meaning is strained.

So, given that the typewritten word was not necessarily an everyday visual for most people in the 1800s, would an emoticon be recognized for what it’s supposed to represent? For that matter, would the iconic smiley face and its variants even be relatable? I know the familiar yellow-colored smiley didn’t become part of our visual-communication nomenclature until the 1960s, so would it even have existed 100 years prior?

In any case, I like how the NYT’s post/article summed up this Lincoln-linked debate:

Perhaps the typesetter should have embedded “==|;o)>” and left no room for doubt.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/19/2009 05:36:56 PM
Category: Creative, History, Publishing
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Apparently to commemorate today’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday, TV Land is running a day-long marathon of “Sanford and Son” reruns.

I’m a big fan of the show myself. Still, I don’t think Dr. King’s vision of socioeconomic equality is best represented by watching a junkman and his son squabble with each other…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/19/2009 01:57:44 PM
Category: History, Society, TV
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