Is This A 366 Year Old Emoticon Or A Typo? – The Jury Is Still Out

For some, emoticons are modern day inventions, however it could very well be an hidden gem of the 17th century. This theory was proposed after a poem by Robert Herrick published in 1648 depicted what many interpreted to be a smiley face.

Mr. Levi Stahl, Writer and Promotions Director at the University of Chicago Press, discovered the modern emoticon symbol – ” 🙂 ” while reading a volume of Herrick’s work.  Mr. Stahl whom was elated by the find went on to blog about his discovery.

“In reading some of Robert Herrick’s poetry last night, I discovered what looks to be the first emoticon!” Stahl wrote.



As can be seen from the second line in the poem titled “To Fortune” the last two characters are both “:)” which just so happen to appear after the words “smiling yet”. Is it just a coincidence? Is it just a typo? Maybe.

This however hasn’t been the first time such a discovery has been made. A few years ago, a similar observation was made in the transcript of an 1862 speech delivered by Abraham Lincoln (the first President of the United States of America). Lincoln’s however was just a tad bit different and depicted the popular winking emoticon – “;)” and similar to the one found in Herrick’s poem it too also preceded a suggestive phrase “applause and laughter”.


Stahl however, in an attempt to validate his discovery delved deeper into other editions of the same work and had this to say “Lest it be an aberration in the edition I own, I checked it against the new, authoritative two-volume edition of Herrick’s work edited by Tom Cain and Ruth Connolly and published by Oxford University Press last year,” he wrote. “The emoticon is there.”

Alan Jacobs of the New Atlantis believes Stahl’s overall analysis is inconclusive and went on to write an article titled “Smileys, Emoticons, Typewriters” in which he provided his interpretation (image below).

lincolin's wink

It can be said that, should conclusive evidence  show that this emoticon trend was a part of the 17th century niche, it will certainly be one of the coolest pieces of literature discovery of our time.

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