Is That an Emoticon in 1862? in NYT

Joel S. Berson Berson at ATT.NET
Tue Jan 20 00:42:54 UTC 2009

Neither an emoticon nor a mistake, I would hazard, but just a
coincidence that is humourous to 20th-century readers.  It was, I
think, common through at least the early 19th century to include a
comma both before and within a parenthetical expression.

Since I've been reading a lot of Hawthorne, the first physical
example that I bring to hand and eye is his 1849 "Main Street" -- not
too long before Lincoln's inauguration:  "Unless something should go
wrong,---as, for instance the misplacing of a picture ... which would
bring the course of time to a sudden period,---barring, I say the
casualties to which such a complicated piece of mechanism is liable
...".  (Ohio State Centenary Edition, Vol. 11, _The Snow Image and
Uncollected Tales_, p. 50.)  Another example, in the 1833 "The
Canterbury Pilgrims":  "At all events I did fail, and you see me here
on my road to the Shaker village, where, doubtless, (for the Shakers
are a shrewd sect,) they will have a due respect for my experience
..."  (page 127).

I suspect one will not find examples for Hawthorne, and perhaps other
writers of his time, on the Web -- editors may have "modernized" such
quaint punctuation in later print and scanned or transcribed editions.

In the transcription of Lincoln's speech, I see a short pause in the
comma before the opening parenthesis; and I see a longer pause in the
semicolon before the closing parenthesis, a longer pause which
suitably precedes the longer pause of an "and".  Modern punctuation
would omit the comma before the opening parenthesis, as well, and
simply put a comma after the closing parenthesis.

In the article cited by Grant, only James Simon comes close.  He is
first quoted as saying "But looking further down the page, there were
more examples that other punctuation was within brackets." But he
later is quoted saying ""It may be a rare but archaic practice not
seen today."  I think it was not rare in the 19th century.  (I must
admit, however, that I don't have a provable explanation for the
space before the semicolon.)


At 1/19/2009 06:14 PM, Grant Barrett wrote:
>Our own Fred Shapiro is quoted in this article about whether a
>semicolon next to a close parenthesis in 1862 is an emoticon or a
>>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
>Grant Barrett
>gbarrett at
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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