In which we discover emoticons, assicons, boobiecons, portmanteaus, neologisms, morphemes, and nonce words.
How do I get myself into these situations? I just received an email informing me that – in addition to being International Talk Like A Pirate Day – last Wednesday (the 19th September 2007) was the 25th anniversary of the invention of the smiley character used in online communications.
According to this email, the symbol :) was invented on 19 September 1982 by Scott E Fahlman in a post on a bulletin board at Carnegie Mellon University. It seems that Scott's post was part of a thread discussing the ways in which humorous remarks could be tagged to avoid misunderstandings. In his post, Scott said:
"I propose that the following character sequence :) for joke markers: Read it sideways."
From this humble beginning, we have subsequently been buried in a plethora of related character sequences. Really, there are an amazing number of these little rapscallions; two of the simpler examples being as follows:
:-& Tongue Tied
Every now and then, I receive an email containing one of these character sequences with which I am not familiar, in which case I will try to track it down to determine what the sender of the message is trying to say to me (am I being laughed with or laughed at?). One real good place to go for this sort of thing is the www.netlingo.com website.
In addition to these emoticons (we'll return to consider the origin of this term in a moment), I just discovered that there are also assicons and boobiecons, which are emoticons that highlight other parts of the body! Examples of a couple of assicons (pronounced: ass-ee-cons) would be as follows (you'll have to check out the boobiecons for yourself):
(_?_) A dumb ass
(_E=mc2_) A smart ass
So far, so good, but it was now that I made my big mistake. While meandering around the Wikipedia (I lose so many hours there), I ran across the tidbit that the word emoticon is a "portmanteau" of emotion and icon. But what's a "portmanteau"? Well, it seems that this is defined as "a word or morpheme that fuses two or more words or word parts to give a combined or loaded meaning." (examples are spork from "spoon" and "fork" and cyborg from "cybernetic" and "organism").
Reading on, I discover that the word Portemanteau is derived from the Middle French porte, meaning "carry" and manteau, meaning a "coat" or "cover". It seems that this originally referred to a large traveling bag or suitcase with two compartments. It was these "two compartments" that inspired Lewis Carroll to coin the new usage of the word to refer to the fusing of two words and their meanings into one. In Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1871), Humpty Dumpty explains to Alice the words from Jabberwocky, saying:
"Well, slithy means lithe and slimy ... You see it's like a portmanteau – there are two meanings packed up into one word."
But wait, there's more, because it seems that portmanteaux are typically "nonce words" or neologisms. What's a neologism?" I hear you cry (I knew you were going to ask me that). Well, a neologism (from the Greek neos, meaning "new" and logos, meaning "word", "speech", or "discourse) is a word, term, or phrase which has been recently created ("coined") – often to apply to new concepts, to synthesize pre-existing concepts, or to make older terminology sound more contemporary. (Interestingly enough, the term "neologism" was itself coined around 1800, which meant that – at that time – the word "neologism" was itself a neologism . . . if you see what I mean).
Meanwhile, a nonce word is a word used only "for the nonce", meaning "for the moment" (it's important not to confuse this term with the British slang word "nonce", meaning a sex offender). Such a word is created to meet a need that is not expected to recur. A classic example is the word Quark, which appeared for the first time in Finnegans Wake (1939) by James Joyce. In this work, seabirds give "three quarks", which is akin to three cheers. The point is that "quark" would likely have remained a nonce word, except that the American physicist Murray Gell-Mann later used it to name a new class of subatomic particle.
And don't even think about getting me rolling on the topic of "morphemes". . .
Questions? Comments? Feel free to email me – Clive "Max" Maxfield – at email@example.com). And, of course, if you haven't already done so, don't forget to Sign Up for our weekly Programmable Logic DesignLine Newsletter.