Friday, May 29, 2009
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
January 19, 2009, 2:00 pm
Is That an Emoticon in 1862?
By Jennifer 8. Lee
Did someone insert an emoticon into this Times transcript of Abraham Lincoln’s speech in 1862?
Were they using emoticons back in the era of Abraham Lincoln?
There has been a lot of recent attention focused on the inspirational quality of Abraham Lincoln’s speeches. Perhaps those speeches inspired emoticons a century before they proliferated in the digital world.
A historical newspaper specialist at the digital archival company Proquest believes he has found an example of a sideways winking smiley face embedded in The New York Times transcript of an 1862 speech given by President Lincoln. Other historians are not so sure, saying the semicolon alongside a closed parenthesis is either a mistake or a misinterpretation of something that is perfectly grammatical for that era.
In 2004, a team at Proquest was given the task of creating a student version of historical newspapers. A team of editors scoured the archives of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor to find 5,000 articles to go with the American history curriculum. In the process, they stumbled across an article dated Aug. 7, 1862, with the headline: “NEWS FROM WASHINGTON.; A Great War Meeting Held at the Capitol. Important Speech of President Lincoln.” [Higher-quality version]
In the transcription of President Lincoln’s speech, which added comments about applause and shouts from the audience was this line:
“… there is no precedent for your being here yourselves, (applause and laughter ;) and I offer, in justification of myself and you, that I have found nothing in the Constitution against.”
Bryan Benilous, who works with historical newspapers at Proquest, said the team felt the “;)” after the word “laughter” was an emoticon, more than a century before emoticons became a widespread concept.
Could it be? Was this just a typo, a mistake, or was the reporter, transcriber or typesetter having a bit of sly fun?
We sought the opinions of historical experts, as well as the Carnegie Mellon professor who is widely credited with instigating the use of Internet emoticons after he proposed using “:-)” and “:-(” to convey emotion on a bulletin board in 1982.
Could It Be a Typo?
“It looks to me like a typo,” said Scott E. Fahlman, the Carnegie Mellon professor who is credited with being User Zero of the Internet emoticon. “I can’t imagine an editor putting that in and meaning, ‘Ha ha,’ trying to emphasize what Lincoln had said. That goes beyond the bounds of editorial comment in a piece of reporting like this.”
However, the Linotype machine, which allowed keyboards to assemble type, were not introduced until the 1880s, noted Vincent Golden, the curator of newspapers and periodicals of the American Antiquarian Society. “At that time, type was still set piece by piece. So the typesetter would have had to pick up the semicolon and set it in the line then pick up the closed bracket and set it next,” he explained. “My gut feeling is it wasn’t a typo.”
However, Allan M. Siegal, the former standards editor at The Times, said he believed that the typesetter could have made a mistake and “simply transposed two characters and meant the semicolon to follow the parenthesis.”
As he explained, “That kind of semicolon between clauses was common in those days, and in fact dashes often superfluously followed parentheses as well.”
James Simon, director of international resources at the Center for Research Libraries in Chicago, also at first thought it was a mistake, but then softened a bit. “My first reaction was that it was a typo,” he said. “Taken out of context from the rest of the article, when I saw the small clip, it certainly looked like it could be a misplaced semicolon. But looking further down the page, there were more examples that other punctuation was within brackets.”
If you look through the text, there are mistakes here and there — the typesetters were not perfect. For example, in the transcript you see “Applase” instead of “Applause.” But leaving something out in typesetting is different from putting something additional in.
O.K., suppose it was just a single errant “;” — perhaps that could be a typo. But what’s notable is that the typesetter uses parentheses. In the rest of the transcript the overwhelming majority of audience reaction is enclosed in square brackets: “[Applause.]” and “[Renewed Applause.]” and “[Laughter and applause.]” and “[Applause and Music]“, “[Wild applause, and cries of "Good."]” and “[Cries of "No," and laughter and applause.]” There are a few scattered cases of the use of parentheses here — we can’t detect a pattern. But parentheses are certainly the exception in the article.
In order to make a smiley, perhaps the typesetter slipped in a “)” to serve as a mouth.
“That is the one bit of evidence that says it’s more than a typo,” Dr. Fahlman said.
Mr. Golden, however, was not convinced. “I definitely don’t think it’s a smiley face because it has a pair of parentheses,” he said. There were an excessive number of square brackets on that page, he said. “They might have just been running low.”
A close look at the paragraph shows the typesetter uses square brackets for the audience reaction both immediately after and before. Were they running low for less than the time it takes to compose a paragraph? Who knows.
The semicolon has long been jettisoned as an anachronism, though it has been known to pop up in Subway advertisements. But what is it doing inside the parentheses? (Mr. Siegal thought perhaps it was intended to have been outside.) “Based on the images you sent, whoever was composing the page felt it necessary to add punctuation within the brackets,” Mr. Golden said. “It may be a rare but archaic practice not seen today. If you look at the other examples, they have punctuation within the brackets and parentheses.”
Mr. Simon echoed, “They were aligned for punctuation inside the parentheses.”
Indeed, you can spot a lot of the punctuation inside the parentheses and square brackets, but they are almost all periods. Does it make sense to have a semicolon there, given that all the other audience reactions end in periods, exclamation points for quotes or nothing?
“I agree it doesn’t seem logical,” Mr. Golden said. “To us, the parenthesis serves the purpose of the semicolon. But who knows what the printer was thinking or the state of the handwritten copy he was working from.”
He added. “I think they just stuck a semicolon in there because the author put one in or they thought it was appropriate to end the phrase.”
Well, fine, if the semicolon is grammatical, why is there a space between laughter and the semicolon?
Mr. Golden suggested that he compositor was trying to space out the line and added the space there. “I think they were justifying the line. Notice all the columns had to be justified left and right, they had to do all of it by hand.”
That would be compelling, especially since there are a lot of random spaces throughout — and on the same line there is an extra large space between “here” and “yourselves.” Except! The next word on the next line is a capital “I,” something that could easily have fit in there.
Why they had to put in the space, given a choice … are they putting the space before the semicolon and not after it?
“That is a good question,” Mr. Simon said. “I don’t know the answer to that.”
Dr. Fahlman, the Carnegie Mellon professor, still pushed back on the idea of an early emoticon. “I think if you took a random person off the street and showed them that, it would not be readily apparent to them,” he said. “I think people don’t notice it unless you put the nose in.” (Those of us with little noses are less beholden to the use of the hyphen as nose.) But perhaps the typesetter was having fun. “Maybe he was having his own little joke.”
Fred Shapiro, a researcher at Yale, initially rejected that it could be an emoticon. Then he noticed that on the “emoticon” Wikipedia page, there are 19th-century examples of emoticons (albeit vertical ones). ” I guess it’s plausible that this is a real emoticon, taking into account the parentheses and the Linotype,” he wrote.
Are we just seeing the the equivalent of the Virgin Mary in a grilled cheese sandwich? Mr. Benilous said: “I can say this is unique. I scrolled through hundreds of results of pre-1900 “Applause and Laughter” references, and this is the only one I found with the semicolon parenthesis.”
He wrote in an e-mail message to City Room: “Ultimately, it is not just one typo but multiple typos that makes it more than a coincidence (spacing before and after, transposition, parenthesis as opposed to bracket). Considering this was all done by hand, it seems to be more intentional as opposed to a slip up typing or Microsoft Word autocorrect making the error.”
Perhaps the typesetter should have embedded “==|;o)>” and left no room for doubt.
Posted by oliver tree at 1:27 PM
Friday, May 15, 2009
Friday, May 8, 2009
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
I was talking to Greg about this over the weekend in our anticipation for the new movie. To me, Beardless Will Riker looks like Deb from Napoleon Dynamite.
I just noticed this one tonight. Along the same lines, does Dracula from Van Helsing remind anyone of someone if we advance her age? Funny bloodsuckers.
Posted by Dr. Chim Richalds at 10:51 PM
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
Hello friends. I am in my Color Theory class currently. I was just looking up Star Trek images for the space ship table I'm making, when I happened upon this wacky list of dating sites.
I actually heard about SugarDaddie.com on Friday. It must be a great one!
Posted by oliver tree at 8:11 PM