Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Natural History of Smirking

From Laura's blog comes the news that a Melbourne worker has been sacked for smirking.

It's been a long journey for the humble smirk since its discovery ...

A smirk packet from the fifties.


The smirk was first discovered by Spanish explorers in the southern Americas. Smirking was an important part of culture for native Americans. They were required to wear smirks for different cultural events, and, from time to time, indulged in recreational smirking as well.
Of course, the Spanish explorers knew nothing about this. They just noticed that the natives had these huge smiles on their faces, and it irritated the hell out of them, so they decided to loot and pillage the place.
However, on their voyage back to Spain, these Spanish explorers frequently found they dreamed of the faces of the conquered native Americans, lips stretched in mysterious, knowing half-grins.
Little did they know, but a small bag of smirks had already been stowed on board by a shiphand.


Soon smirking became an established custom in many lands in Europe. To the Spanish, it was known as 'La Smirquettillo'; to the Italians, 'La Smirquetta'; to the French, 'Le Smirque'. It was only in the 1600s - when the practice of smirking was taken up by the English - that it took on its modern name, and became the humble smirk.
Smirking quickly rose in popularity, and soon, packets of smirks were sold in every marketplace, up and down the land. Different kinds of smirks were developed - from the extra mild (a small, slight twinge of the lips: very popular with women) to the extra wild smirk (lips parted, teeth showing in a kind of animal growl). It was difficult to tell the smirk from ordinary facial expressions if one was not a smirking connoisseur: there was just something knowing and secretive about the expression.
Smirking clubs were established, of which many up-and-coming men became members. Famous smirkers in history include D'Israeli, Theodore Roosevelt, and F.D. Roosevelt*. The practice of smirking, however, was frowned on in female society.


The smirk became ever more popular; however, in the mid-twentieth century, a number of facts were discovered about the smirk that may dramatically effect its history.

- Firstly, the smirk was addictive: this fact was suspected for centuries, but the addictive qualities of the smirk have now been measured and quantified in the laboratory. (It has since been pointed out that when the doctors performing this research found out about the addictive qualities of the smirk, they were so satisfied with themselves that they could not refrain from handing out a packet of smirks and putting them on, which rather casts doubt on some of their research.)

- Secondly, the smirk was convincingly linked, in a number of scientific studies, to different conditions: among them Lung cancer, respiratory disease, and know-it-all-itis (a rare but fatal condition often affecting politicians).

- Thirdly - and less convincingly, this time - there have been suggestions that smirking leads to other forms of drug abuse, and may exaggerate criminal tendencies in people.

Parents became worried about the effects of smirking on their schoolchildren. One school teacher was quite shocked when she discovered that her Kindergarten class were not, in fact, smiling because they were happy to be in school: they were, in fact, sharing amongst themselves a packet of smirks when she was not looking.
She immediately lobbied the school to do something about what she called the 'rampant smirk abuse' in the school system and 'wipe the smiles off those little brats faces'. In little over a month, she had gained national media attention and formed the Coalition Of Concern About Smirking Students. (COCASS). This anti-smirking lobby group has since had a vast influence on the history of the smirk in the world.
Governments turned against the smirk (although politicians kept smirking on the side): labels were placed on smirking packets, and taxes on smirking companies were raised higher and higher. Gradually, smirking in public places was outlawed, amidst concerns about 'ilicit smirking' (ie, wearing another person's smirk without meaning to), and the danger to public health.

However, to this day, politicians have not succeeded in outlawing smirking completely.


It is impossible to predict what will happen to the simple smirk next. Governments may eventually succeed in making smirking illegal, but this may simply increase the ilicit trade in smirking, driving it underground.
At the moment, smirking companies are attempting to invent a range of 'substitute smirks' - with the working name 'Schmucks' - which have the attraction and flair of the classic smirk, but without the health defects. These include the 'Quiet Grin' brand of Schmuck and the 'Subtle Sneer' brand of Schmuck. It remains to be seen whether this will have any effect on smirking overall.

Until then, dear readers, it's ....

(Author exits, lips twitching slightly, mouth covered with hands ...)

UPDATE! - Famous smirks in history and literature!

1. The Cheshire Cat smirk - very few people (and certainly not Lewis Carroll himself) knew that, in fact, the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland was not actually grinning: he was smirking.

2. The Sigmund Freud smirk. When journalists asked him why he was always smirking, he replied, 'Sometimes a smirk is just a smirk', and carried on smirking. Just like that.

3. The smirking worker - from a Bulletin cartoon. One of the people in the picture is smirking - but which one?

4. The Smirking Man from The X-Files.

5. The Smirks - a short-lived cartoon sponsored by a smirk company. People were never quite able to work out why the little blue creatures featured had huge grins on their faces ...

* Abraham Lincoln, on the other hand, abstained from both the smirk and from female society.


Tim said...

Six posts in two days - do you even have a job anymore? And if so, can you get me one that offers similar opportunities to blog?

BTW, thanks for the crystal ball insight into my future career. I see you left out the bit where I become a wise-cracking hitman who has to balance being a dad with offing enemies of state. Otherwise it seems pretty spot on.

Caz said...

While my local member, Mr Costello, remains in politics I cannot foresee a time when smirking will be outlawed.

BTW - the smirk sacking was YONKS ago. Some of them have been sacked, re-instated, and sacked again since then - oh, and the company has gone into liquidation, so, I guess even the non-smirkers are unemployed now.

Bad managers sack smirkers. Bad managers end up with no business at all. Look who's smirking now!

TimT said...

Tim - I refuse to answer that question on the grounds that it might get me fired and stuff. I start flailing away at the keyboard whenever somebody important goes by, and then when they've gone smirk quietly in the corner. It's a bad habit, but it can't be helped.

And didn't EVERYONE know about the wisecracking hitman future story line? I would have mentioned it otherwise ...

Caz - ah, yes, I think I know the ones you're talking about now. It's a little berserk, going nuts at a work smirk, I guess; but good to be filled in on the details.

And don't Christians dislike the smirking and other drugs?

Caz said...

Mr Costello is both a world renowned smirker and a christian. I don't know if he takes drugs as well, thus making up the holy trinity.

Email: timhtrain - at -

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