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Smiley Faces and Emojis

Screen Shot 2016-04-07 at 5.06.15 PM           A smiling face is happy. A frown is sad. Well, not always. In the world of emojis, there are dozens of faces and depending on the eyes, a water droplet, or a tongue, a smile can take on different meanings.

What’s an emoji? (ēˈmōjē)   If you’re asking, you probably don’t use a smart phone or online conversation. Or maybe you hate and ignore those little pictures people use in text messages. Or you’ve seen those little pictures and didn’t know they had a name. An emoji is simply a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in an electronic communication. Certainly not everyone who communicates by email and texting and social networking uses such icons.

Is the idea for emojis really new? A yellow circle face is one of the most poplar emojis and a double first cousin to a smiley face. And haven’t smiley faces been around forever? As a teacher, I drew a circle with a big curved smile and two dots for eyes beside A and B grades on many students’ papers. Sometimes, I’d circle the dotted eyes to draw glasses and add wisps of hair. And if I wished the grade had been higher, I drew a straight-line, curved down mouth for sadness.

According to Smithsonian.com, in 1963 Harvey Ball, an American graphic artist and ad man, was commissioned to create a graphic to raise morale among the employees of an insurance company. Ball was paid $45 for his work that took less than 10 minutes. The State Mutual Life Assurance Company made posters, buttons, and signs to encourage their employees to smile more. There’s no record if that worked, but the company recognized that the logo was a hit and produced millions of buttons. Neither Ball nor the insurance company attempted to copyright the design.

In the early 1970s in Philadelphia, two brothers who owned Hallmark card shops added the slogan “Have a Happy Day” to a smiley face and produced copyrighted novelty items. Within one year, over 50 million happy day smiley face buttons and other products had been sold.

Worldwide, smiling faces have been used by many businesses, even a French newspaper to highlight positive news. And thru the years, there have been trademark and copyright disagreements, ending in lawsuits and multi-million dollar settlements. One argument is that a circle with a simple curved one-line mouth is so basic that it can’t be credited to anyone. And it’s been claimed that the world’s first smiley face dates back to 2500 BC on a stone carving found in a French cave.

Many of us can probably find a smiley face button stuck in the back of a kitchen drawer or at the bottom of a sock drawer. Those bright yellow metal buttons that have one long stickpin to wear on lapels. Those buttons that we gave to each other to say ‘Have a good day!’ Buttons we wore to let the world know we were happy.

That simple face with a curved line smile and two dots for eyes was transformed into many variations and has appeared on posters and pillows and art. And when emojis came along, smiley faces learned to scream and whisper and cry and vent and wink and love and kiss and laugh.  And along side those round faces are thousands of other emojis.

So who created emojis? Why? I intend to research just a bit and I’ll let you know.


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