Easter 29


It has been tradition since the beginning of printed newspapers in the United States of America for political speeches to be published in the newspaper following their being given in a public forum.  Therefore, it was no surprise that the New York Times published a speech of Abraham Lincoln’s in 1862.  What might surprise some is that said publication of this speech contains an emoticon.


Of course, no one really known if the printing of “(applause and laughter ;)” was an actual punctuation found in the speech or simply a typo and the term “emoticon” would not be invented for another one hundred and twenty years but it is interesting to imagine with a bit of whimsy the tall, lanky president standing at a podium looking at a winking smiling face.


There were four such symbols published in 1881 in the magazine “Puck”.  They included symbols for joy, melancholy, indifference, and astonishment.  In 1936 in the magazine “National Lampoon” Alan Gregg offered some symbols that he thought should be used for a smile, laugh, frown, wink, and for “intense interest, attention, and incredulity”.  While the use of the current digital emoticons is traced to the 1980’s at both Carnegie Mellon University and in Japan, they were used in humorous writings of the nineteenth century.


Such symbols have also been used for those who have difficulty speaking.  A board with symbols could be pointed at and proved a way to allow communication with those who were verbally impaired.  The board was called Bliss.  As Jessica Montgomery explained in a blog she wrote, “Traditional Blissymbolic communication required a person to aid the user, so that the symbols the user pointed out could be interpreted and synthesized.  Since blissymbols were just placed on a board, they were quite useless unless there was another person who understood the Blissymbols system there to facilitate the process.”  Something was needed to allow the individual freedom to communicate one on one without needing someone to interpret.


Enter Rachel Zimmerman.  At the age of twelve, Rachel invented the Blissymbol Printer.  Her printer operates on a software program she developed that translates Blissymbols tapped on a board into written language on a computer screen, allowing the disabled to “talk” to others, record thoughts, write correspondence, even send emails.   More importantly, this program allows a person freedom to be independent and communicate.


Today Sarah Zimmerman is married at work for NASA.  She is also a Role Model, one a group of women in science, technology and mathematics called FabFems, short for Fabulous Females.  This is her bio on their website:  “Growing up in Canada, she participated in numerous science fairs at the school, regional, national, and international levels. As the inventor of the Blissymbol Printer, she was a member of the Women Inventors Project and the Women Inventors Networking Society. Rachel earned a bachelor’s degree in Physics from Brandeis University in Massachusetts and a Master of Space Studies from the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. Rachel enjoys mentoring young women who are interested in STEM careers.”


Women need to explore their potential and Rachel Zimmerman is proof that they have much to offer.  Check out the FabFems.  More importantly, explore your own potential.  The world needs our best.


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