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Iconic smiley face
A smiley, or happy face (/), is a stylized representation of a smiling human face, commonly represented as a yellow (many other colors are also used) circle (or sphere) with two black dots representing eyes and a black half circle representing the mouth. “Smiley” is also sometimes used as a generic term for any emoticon.

The variant spelling "smilie" is not as common, but the plural form "smilies" (the plural of "smily", not "smiley") is commonly used.


Harvey Ball designed the first Smiley face, while working at State Mutual Life Assurance Company as a freelance artist. However, the first smiley face recorded on film can be seen being drawn in Ingmar Bergman's film "Hamnstad", released in 1948. The film is a drama about a depressed and suicidal young woman named Berit, in one scene she draws an unhappy face on the bathroom mirror using her lipstick.

The graphic was popularized in the early 1970s by Bernard and Murray Spain, who seized upon it in a campaign to sell novelty items. The two produced buttons as well as coffee mugs, t-shirts, bumper stickers and many other items emblazoned with the symbol and the phrase "Have a happy day" (devised by Gyula Bogar).

In the UK, the smiley is associated with psychedelic culture since Ubi Dwyer and the Windsor Free Festival in the 1970s and the acid house dance music culture that emerged during the second summer of love in the late 1980s. The face was used as an engraved logo on ecstasy tablets at the time. The association was cemented when the band Bomb The Bass used an extracted smiley from Watchmen on the centre of its Beat Dis hit single.

Licensing and legal issues

Smiley has been a registered trademark in some countries since 1971 when French journalist Franklin Loufrani created "Smiley World" to sell, advertise and license the smiley face image in the United Kingdom and Europe. The Smiley name and logo is registered and used in over 100 countries for 25 classes of goods and services. Loufrani has created the icon in 1971 to highlight good news in newspaper articles.

In 1999, Harvey Ball formed World Smile Corporation and began licensing the smiley face to fund his undiscovered charitable causes. Profits are distributed to charities through the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, which also sponsors the annual World Smile Day Ball started in 1999 to encourage "acts of kindness."

In 2006 Wal-Martmarker, which prominently featured a smiley in its "Rolling Back Prices" campaign, sought to trademark the smiley face in the United States, coming into legal conflict with Loufrani and Smiley World over the matter. In 2006 Wal-mart began to phase out the smiley face on its vests and its website. During a trademark infringement case against an online parodist, Wal-Mart again tried to claim it held the trademark rights to the yellow smiley face. In March 2008, Wal-Mart lost the case and the judge stated in his decision that Wal-Mart did not own rights to the smiley face.

In 2008, the Russian entrepeneur Oleg Teterin, president of the mobile phone company Superfone, claimed a trademark for the emoticon smiley that included ownership of ;-) and closely related smileys. He says he does not intend to go after individual users, but rather intends for companies who plan to use the emoticons to pay him royalties.

In 2008 Loufrani lost his case in the EU when he tried to register the right half of the Smiley-mouth as a separate trademark.

Typographical smileys

Many typographical representations of smiley faces have been developed over the years. Some feature non-smiling expressions or other elaborations. They come in two main varieties, those meant to be viewed sideways, and those meant to be seen upright.

Icon Meaning
:-) classic smile with nose (Unicode: ☺ #263A)
:-( classic frown with nose (Unicode: ☹ #2639)
:) classic smile without nose
:( classic frown without nose
The two original text smileys, :-) to indicate a joke and :-( to mark things that are not a joke were invented on September 19, 1982 by Scott E. Fahlman, a research professor at Carnegie Mellon Universitymarker's Department of Computer Science. His original post at the CMU CS general board, where he suggested the use of the smileys, was retrieved on September 10, 2002 by Jeff Baird from an October 1982 backup tape of the spice vax (cmu-750x) as proof to support the claim.

More recently, small, in-line graphical images of smileys and other faces have become popular, especially on forum:

Smiley Expression
Simple Smile is usually written like this, :) or (: or :] or [: or =) or (= or :-) or (-:
Confused Smiley is usually written like this, :S or S: or :/ or :\ or /: or o_O or O_O
Simple Frown is usually written like this, :( or ): or :[ or ]: or :'( or )':
Shocked Smiley is usually written like this, :O or O: or :o or o:
Smiley with Tongue sticking out is usually written like this, :P or q: or :p. If you use ASCII keys then, :Þ, is also possible. Press ALT + keypad0222 for "Þ"
Smiley with big grin is usually written like this, :D or :]] or [[:

The reverse, or left-handed, smileys (-: have also gained popularity for being a way to avoid having text smileys converted to graphical representations in certain settings such as instant messaging programs.

Fictional use

In the movie Forrest Gump, Tom Hanks' character of the same name is splattered with mud by a passing truck when running across America. A tee-shirt designer, who is struggling to think of a new design, hands him a tee-shirt to wipe off the mud. The imprint left in the mud stain is a smiley face; As Forrest runs off, he tells the man "Have a nice day" and the designer realizes this is the design he has been looking for.

Many smileys appear in the film Repo Man, as well as posters for "Harry Pace for City Council" ("Happy Face"). The film Moon has a robot that continually expresses its 'emotions' through smileys displayed on a small screen.

A bloodstained Smiley badge is featured as the most prominent motif and recurring piece of imagery in Alan Moore's 1986 comic series Watchmen, as well as its 2009 film adaptation. The badge belongs to a murdered "Adventurer" (Hero) known as The Comedian and prominently features a line of red blood crossing over the Smiley's left eye (right-hand side, left side visually) mimicking the position a clock face set at five minutes to midnight (another motif of the Comics). In later reissues and reprints of the comic series, the Bloodstained Smiley Badge, particularly the left eye, became a symbol for the series as a whole and serves as the cover art to the paperback graphic novel.

Evolution is a 2001 comedy sci-fi movie directed by Ivan Reitman. The movie uses a 'three-eyed' smiley to show the evolution of the standard smiley. The three-eyed smiley face used as the logo of the film in marketing was borrowed from the comic book Transmetropolitan. Producers had to get permission from DC Comics to use it and were licensed by Smileyworld Ltd., owner of the smiley face trademark, to use it for advertising and commercial purposes.

Rockstar Games has used Smiley faces often for ironic purposes. In Grand Theft Auto 2, a gang known as "The Loonies" has a Smiley face as their icon. In the game Manhunt, a gang of psychotics known as "The Smileys" wear smiley face masks, some often covered in blood, or with pieces broken off.

In the series The Mentalist, the antagonist Red John uses the smiley face as his signature, which he creates using the victim's blood and makes the circle with three fingers clockwise with a rubber kitchen glove. Because it is made from food, the dripping makes it look as if it is weeping.

Episode 1 of Season 6 of House M.D. TV series ends with Dr. Greg House finally coming out of psychiatric ward wearing a Smiley T-shirt.


  1. Smiley Story. Smiley World website.
  2. World Smile website
  3. Loufrani v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., Opposition No. 91152145 (Filed July 23, 2002)
  4. Mike Jones (September 12, 2002), The First Smiley :-),, retrieved May 31, 2007

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