Tumble me down, and I will sit
Upon my ruins, (smiling yet:)
Tear me to tatters, yet I’ll be
Patient in my necessity.
A smiley!!11! Well, no. Within Days, Ben Zimmer of Slate’s excellent “Lexicon Valley” blog published a comprehensive treatment of this and other supposed historical emoticons, demonstrating that the “smileys” found in pre-20th century works are almost always attributable to the punctuation fashion of their times.[*] Reverse Herrick’s ‘:’ and ‘)’ and suddenly things look a lot more conventional — and, frankly, a lot more believable. Much as it pains me to say it, perhaps it’s time to put the quest for the historical smiley on the back burner for a while…?
Make no mistake, these are striking, difficult images. In one, Grosz depicts a tree of section marks with corpses dangling from its branches; in another, a man is pursued and strangled by a flock of the same symbols. The question mark makes an appearance too, hovering atop a shocking, prescient heap of bones and skulls.
“[Grosz’s] drawings are not pleasant,” as Philip explained, “but then, neither was the world he saw about him.”