Emoticons were introduced in 1982. Today I started reading The Time Machine and I saw this line in the first page:

And he put it to us in this way—marking the points with a lean forefinger—as we sat and lazily admired his earnestness over this new paradox (as we thought it:) and his fecundity.

That doesn’t appear to be a print error, I both find it in my paperback book and in an online version. Also from the context, it could really be interpreted as an emoticon, underlying the ironic sense of the phrase. But, being written in 1895, I know it cannot be an emoticon: so how should it be interpreted?

  • 8
    If it's an emoticon then you have unbalanced brackets. It would be interesting to check how it was printed in early editions.
    – mikado
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 7:12
  • 34
    Perhaps it's a hint that H.G. Wells really had invented time travel!
    – mikado
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 7:14
  • 9
    @mikado: If I want to smile / wink at the end of a parenthetical aside, I tend to let the closing paren do double duty as part of the emoticon and as a closing paren, to avoid a forest of parens. Although I more often use :P, which doesn't involve itself, so I end up with (stuff :P). Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 21:58
  • 4
    @PeterCordes: There was a related TED talk. I personally like (stuff :D). Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 15:25
  • 1
    @PeterCordes If you do the double duty thing, it ends up wrong if it passes through an emoticon-to-emoji converter.
    – Barmar
    Commented Jun 21, 2021 at 14:00

2 Answers 2


TL;DR: The colon is a typographical error, not an early emoticon.

One way to investigate this kind of question is to use full-text search on a suitable corpus. For example, we could search the Internet Archive for nearby words, sorted by publication date and see which editions have the colon. (Note that some care is needed in interpreting the results, because the digitization process does not always capture an accurate publication date.)

A complication is that Wells wrote several versions of The Time Machine:

The earliest draft of the story was called The Chronic Argonauts and was serialized in the Science School Journal, the students’ magazine of the Royal College of Science, in 1888. It had only the bare idea of ‘time travelling’ and a few lines of dialogue in common with the later versions. Wells subsequently made two further drafts, which are lost, and early in 1894, in response to a request by W. E. Henley, he returned to the story and rewrote it as a series of loosely connected articles for the National Observer. The first of them appeared in March, and six more were published between March and June, but the series was discontinued after Henley gave up the editorship. These article have a fairly close resemblance to the story as we now know it, particularly the first of them, but contain only a fraction of the material. […] At the end of the year Henley took over the editorship of the New Review and arranged for the novel to be serialized there: it appeared in five instalments from January to May 1895. At the end of May The Time Machine was published as a book by William Heinemann, and this version is still in print. It is largely, though not entirely, the same as that serialized The New Review. Some years later Wells made a few minor changes in the text, which mainly consisted of removing the chapter headings and running various chapters together; and this revised text was included in the Atlantic Edition of his works [1924]; it has since been reprinted in The Short Stories of H. G. Wells [1923] and the Everyman’s Library edition of The Wheels of Chance and The Time Machine.

Bernard Bergonzi (1960). ‘The Publication of The Time Machine 1894–5’. The Review of English Studies 11:41, pp. 42–43.

The 1895 text lacks the “(as we thought it)” parenthesis, which appears for the first time in the 1923 revised text. The following table gives a selection of editions of the 1923 version of the story, in date order.

Date Title Publisher Colon?
1923 The Short Stories of H. G. Wells London: Ernest Benn no
1935 (repr. 1936) Readings from the Scientists Edinburgh: R. & R. Clark no
1949 (repr. 1960) The Time Machine London: Heinemann no
1954 The Treasury of Science Fiction Classics New York: Hanover no
1957 (repr. 1963) The Time Machine New York: Berkley yes
1960 Three Prophetic Novels of H. G. Wells New York: Dover no
1982 The Time Machine New York: Bantam yes
1984 The Time Machine New York: Signet yes

You’ll see that the colon is missing from the early editions, and appears for the first time in the 1957 Berkley edition. (For the first time in this corpus, that is: there may be other editions for which the Internet Archive does not have digitized copies.) The subsequent appearance of the colon in the Bantam and Signet editions suggests that these two publishers copied their text from the Berkley edition (or all three copied it from a shared source).

  • 26
    For the research, you get my upvote. For the first ever use of the newly introduced table markdown, you get my utmost respect. Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 20:55
  • And indeed the book my hand is an old Berkley (not Berkeley) publication. You could buy one for 50 cents + 10 cents expedition costs :) (true emoticon this time). No publication date, but features some pictures from the 1960 movie, so must be from 1963. Great work, thank you!
    – Antonio
    Commented Jun 19, 2021 at 22:47
  • Interesting, the 1895 edition you link to says it was published in New York by H. Holt and Company, but my Dover Thrift Edition claims to be an unabridged republication of an 1895 edition published in London by William Heinemann. Moreover, comparing the first pages of each shows them to be very different (and as it relates to the question here, mine does have the parenthetical). Were there, then, two different versions of the book published at the same time by different publishers on different continents?
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 14:53
  • @Alex I think the claim in the Dover edition is simply mistaken. Google Books has the 1895 serialization in The New Review 12:1 and you can check for yourself that it corresponds to the 1895 H. Holt text. Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 15:05
  • 2
    Just last week when he appeared in my living room I asked Wells about this, and he said he had no bloody idea what I was going on about. :-) Commented Jun 20, 2021 at 23:07

The colon introduces a new clause (e.g. for cause and affect), and the closing parenthesis just happens to be there. This same combination of

followed by `
occurs several times in other literature. For instance, in the King James Bible, we see
1 Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel: and the genealogy is not to be reckoned after the birthright.

2 For Judah prevailed above his brethren, and of him came the chief ruler; but the birthright was Joseph's:)

(1 Chronicles 5:1-2)

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.