The emoticon might be older than we thought. This passage of text, which includes a cheeky smiley, is taken from Robert Herrick’s 1648 poem To Fortune—and it might be the first ever use of an emoticon.
Literary critic Levi Stahl thought the punctuation might be a typo in his copy of of Hesperides, but he checked out the authoritative two-volume edition of Herrick’s work published last year by the Oxford University Press and found the exact same thing. Stahl has since claimed that that it could well be an intentional invention of the smiley, as the poet’s work is generally cleverly written with smart, underlying humor.
In other words: we can’t quite be sure if it’s the first or not. But it’s fun to think that it might be.