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CMU Professor Never Imagined Emoticon Would Go Global

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Carnegie Mellon University is celebrating the birthday of a popular invention. An invention you probably had no idea was born right here in Pittsburgh.

CMU is known for world-renowned innovations in all different fields, but one invention that happened there 30 years ago is what the world is talking about, especially this week.

The simple smiley face emoticon is used all over the world - in emails, text messages and on social media sites. The universal symbol was originated at CMU by research professor, Scott Fahlman.

Fahlman came up the idea while on a message board.

"Sometimes someone would say something meant to be sarcastic and others wouldn't get the joke, and then we would have what we called 'flame war' - somebody would respond angrily and there would be a long argument," says Fahlman. "It went on for weeks and weeks sometimes."

To avoid that, Fahlman developed the first-ever emoticon.

"I was looking at the key board and there was the colon and that could be a pair of eyes if you turn your head sideways, and then after that the nose and the parenthesis for the mouth," Fahlman said.

It all began with a message he sent out on Sept. 19, 1982. The idea of the emoticon caught on and grew to heights Fahlman never imagined.

"It apparently tickled people somehow," Fahlman added. "I noticed within a few days that people around Carnegie Mellon were using it in their own emails. I noticed within a couple of weeks it had made it across the very primitive network we had in those days to other schools."

From other schools to around the globe.

Over the years, on various anniversaries, Fahlman has been interviewed by media from places like Germany, the UK, and New Zealand.

"It's become part of our language and people like to use it, and I guess it serves a purpose," he adds.

Fahlman says it's been a fun ride, but he hopes someday, he will be recognized for his research rather than the smile.

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