no more emoticons

This article about emoticons is humorous, but makes a valid point. Letters have been written without emoticons for centuries. Why do we need them now? I used to rationalize that the missing inflection of the voice could cause humor or sarcasm to be misinterpreted, but that’s been the case with the written word all along.

I am going to try an experiment. Whenever I feel compelled to use an emoticon, I will come up with a way to express the emotion sans emoticon. Wish me luck.


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  1. Well, clearly they weren’t needed because people’s cursive handwriting conveyed their emotions. Just ask Levi. (I’m desperately trying hard to not insert a colon followed by right parenthese here)

    Comment by Renee on June 16, 2003 @ 6:13 am
  2. Following that argument, why do we need computers? We never needed them before. It’s obviously a hole-ly argument. Personally I don’t mind them and will continue to use them. They key is, as we are often told, moderation in all things. Just as a single ‘!’ is fine, but five of them are unappropriate, you may use emoticons when needed, as long as it’s appropriate.

    Comment by Cameron on June 16, 2003 @ 8:09 am
  3. i agree with cameron – just because something didn’t exist before doesn’t mean it’s not useful now.

    emoticons get a bad rap sometimes, but that’s because some people use them like smiley dots over a written “i” – they’re just irritating. but the people who do that in handwriting do that online, and i don’t correspond with anyone who dots an “i” with a smiely face in the first place. *wink*wink*

    Comment by arrancia on June 16, 2003 @ 9:08 am
  4. The argument isn’t that we don’t need something that didn’t exist before. That would be ridiculous. The argument is that for hundreds of years people have managed to solve the exact same problem emoticons solve, but more efficiently. Is anyone under the impression that emoticons are becoming accepted in mainstream writing? Will smilies and winks soon be in paperback novels, magazines or newspapers? Are emoticons more powerful than the english language?

    Comment by dan on June 16, 2003 @ 10:28 am
  5. Well, they’re certainly one one’s mind if one uses email a lot. There are several spots in the good old King James version of the Bible that have: (blah blah blah:) blah blah blah
    Everytime I see that when reading with my husband, I joke, “Oh, a smiley.”

    Long before there was a pc in every home (or any home), my grandmother wrote letters with little sad, happy, and confused faces occaisonally at the end of sentences to get her point across.

    We’ve all seen message boards, emails, etc. where someone has taken something the wrong way, despite the best efforts of the author to convey their point. Perhaps emoticons have become commonplace as a way to help concumvent those misunderstandings. We all read (and hear) things through our own prism.

    Comment by Renee on June 16, 2003 @ 10:44 am
  6. I think Emoticons in the bible and other serious literature would liven things up a bit.

    Deut. 32: 22
    …For a afire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. :0 :(

    or Shakespear:
    ..But soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east, and Juliet is the sun…” ;)

    (Lightning may strike me any minute)

    Comment by carlene on June 16, 2003 @ 12:35 pm
  7. it’s just funny to me that you’re feeling anti-emoticon. i still write a little smiley – yes, in handwriting – when i write my mom little notes. and she writes them back to me.

    can you give me an example of how people solve the same problem more efficiently? because i’d say a quick :) is pretty efficient.

    Comment by arrancia on June 16, 2003 @ 12:35 pm
  8. English is more efficient than non-standard symbols that have different meanings to different people. Most people don’t know the meaning of all the smiley variations and it takes extra effort to figure out if their comment was meant to be funny, tongue-in-cheek or whatever depending on the one they used.

    Out of the most influential writers in all of history, how many used emoticons? Were they not able to express emotion? On the contrary, they were more able to do so. That’s the real beef I have. Emoticons are a cheap substitute for expressing yourself with words. Please don’t take my words as criticism, because I’m a regular offender too.

    Comment by dan on June 16, 2003 @ 1:28 pm
  9. Oh, and Carly, that would be hilarious. I can see it now, “Wo unto thee, for thou shalt be thrust into the eternal fiery pits of damnation ;)”

    Hmm, now that I think of it, how would that be read out loud? If you were reading an email to a blind person, how would ‘;)’ or ‘:)’ be read? Smiley face, wink?

    Comment by dan on June 16, 2003 @ 1:35 pm
  10. Dan, you’re just being contrary now. :)

    Here’s a number of points to ponder. First, what makes you think that English is efficient? What definition of efficient are you using, anyway? An emoticon takes far less time to read and write than a sentence. Most people don’t use that many of them, and it’s intuitively obvious what a smile means as opposed to what some flowery English words might mean. Not everyone has a huge vocabulary, and looking things up in the dictionary gets tedious.

    Secondly, you seem to be assuming that a person should only have one form of writing, and that the rules of that form should apply equally to all writing made. Do you really want notes to your mother, a term paper, or a sonnet to all sound the same? Do you speak with the same word and grammar choices as you write? Should beautiful prose always take precedence over practicality? I’ll bet your answer is ‘no’ to all of the above, and so my response to you is that sometimes it’s okay and even preferable to use the ‘cheap substitute’ over the authentic original.

    I say, let the emoticons emote freely! When you’re writing informally and feel the urge to wink, have at it! ;) If you feel like sticking your tongue out, do it! :P Let the stuffy guardians of ‘proper prose’ cringe; you’ll be happily passing notes with friends while they’re carefully constructing well-worded criticisms that only they will ever read.

    Just don’t write those notes in cursive. ;)

    Comment by Levi on June 16, 2003 @ 1:53 pm
  11. Why can’t we all be one big happy smiling family?
    ^ ^
    0 0

    Must we argue?

    Comment by Anonymous on June 16, 2003 @ 2:50 pm
  12. I like emoticons. So bite me!

    Comment by Mel on June 16, 2003 @ 2:52 pm
  13. First off, I am playing devil’s advocate to explore this issue. Like Renee, I have seen people misunderstand sarcastic comments in emails and realize that emoticons can help in that regard.

    Efficient is referring to the effort and time it takes the reader to understand the message. With smilies, the reader must know about smilies and their meaning and they are not officially understood. For example, my grandmother has never used a computer, much less the internet. If I were to use ‘:)’ she would not understand what it meant. However, if I were to write, “Hah, I kid” she would laugh in understanding at my witty humor. It takes a bit more time to write (which I would argue is negligible given the time it takes to think about what to write) but makes it more accessible to everyone.

    As far as I know, kids are not taught smilies in school, so a small child learning to read might have the same problem, especially if they don’t have access to the internet. And there’s no need to use flowery words to convey emotions. Strunk and White recommend concise language and I wholeheartedly agree.

    For no other reason than to be contrary, my answer is yes to all of your questions.

    In closing, I still don’t see the pressing need for emoticons. Would you be able to write without them? People have written notes to their mothers without them, I don’t see why it’s so hard to conceive of writing without them now. And it’s not like emoticons are the equivalent of the lightbulb versus the candle. It’s more like a fly swatter.

    Comment by dan on June 16, 2003 @ 4:59 pm
  14. Out of all the email correspondence in the world, how much of it goes to grandmothers and small children? And how long do you think it would really take for said grandmothers and small children to pick up emoticons? They’re really very common now, especially among people who typically use electronic forms of communication. I think your efficiency argument is bogus.

    I never said there was any pressing need for them, I just didn’t think your arguments against them were particularly sound. Just because something isn’t strictly necessary doesn’t mean it shouldn’t exist or be used. I mean, do we really need contractions? Probably not, but they make English much more convenient to use.

    However, if you’d like to modify your campaign to be against egregious overuse of emoticons, I’d be happy to join in. Seeing one after every sentence does grate on my nerves.

    Comment by Levi on June 16, 2003 @ 6:07 pm
  15. You’d be surprised. 83% of all email goes to grandmothers, and 94% goes to small children. I’m sure you can understand the seriousness of the issue at hand.

    I still hold to the efficiency argument for odd smilies when I have to stare at them to figure out what they are suposed to mean. I admit the standard smile and wink is easy enough to understand as long as you’re accustomed to them.

    Besides, I’m not asking anyone else to stop using them. I said I was going to try the experiment, and no one even wished me good luck. (Hmm, I would have put a smiley face there.)

    Comment by dan on June 16, 2003 @ 6:28 pm
  16. (_8(|) Homer Simpson thinks fly swatters are pretty handy. @@@8^) So does Marge. Perhaps a Translation guide is in order for all this.

    Comment by Renee on June 16, 2003 @ 8:35 pm
  17. I once saw this emoticon


    and for the life of my I couldn’t figure out what it means. I still can’t.

    Comment by Kieran on June 16, 2003 @ 8:53 pm
  18. *$( One-eyed person person sad about their botched nose job?

    Comment by Renee on June 16, 2003 @ 9:03 pm
  19. And thus we see how inefficient and confusing emoticons can be. Poor Kieran is still trying to figure out what that one meant. If the person had simply written “a one eyed person sad about their botched nose job” Renee wouldn’t have had to explain it to us.

    Comment by dan on June 16, 2003 @ 9:32 pm
  20. I’m not sure that’s it. I interpreted it as ‘Asian man does not enjoy crabbing.’

    Comment by Kieran on June 16, 2003 @ 10:17 pm
  21. It could be “a sad man with a small patch of hair who was punched in the face and had his glasses broken.”

    Comment by dan on June 16, 2003 @ 11:01 pm
  22. hey – a picture paints a thousand words. that’s MIGHTY efficient. ;) ;) ;) oh, the winking! the winking!! :-O

    here’s the pope

    Comment by arrancia on June 16, 2003 @ 11:40 pm
  23. :(

    Man putting a gun to his head.

    Comment by Kieran on June 17, 2003 @ 1:17 am
  24. 8^Q Ya’ll is smokin’ something

    Comment by Renee on June 17, 2003 @ 6:07 am
  25. Remember, one of the key points in writing is to write to your audience — be it kids, grandmas, pregnant ladies with botched nose jobs or whatever.

    Oh, and here’s one I like:
    “Wo unto liars, for they shall be thrust down to Hell. LOL”

    Comment by Cameron on June 17, 2003 @ 8:49 am
  26. Well, admittedly, I’m coming to this discussion a little late, but I thought you might find these Japanese emoticons interesting.

    I’m not a huge fan of traditional emoticons, but Kanji emoticons are lots of fun. I find them much more expressive. You can’t express things like “Being in a cold sweat” or “Walk like a crab” with American emoticons.

    Comment by Foptimus Prime on August 12, 2003 @ 8:09 pm
  27. The link was missing the href, so I Googled japanese emoticons and found some examples. Not too shabby.

    Comment by dan on August 12, 2003 @ 11:03 pm
  28. hey i luv tha emoticons!!

    Comment by jesenia arevalo on September 21, 2003 @ 1:03 pm
  29. i cant believe you all actually care that much about emoticons! You must have something better to fill your time with, there is so much we could bitch about, why you choose emoticons, who knows!
    Small things amuse small minds! how fitting! have yourselves a great, and dont forget there just emoticons! i cant believe i wasted 5 minutes reading this garbage! maybe we could do without computers! bye

    Comment by Anonymous on November 18, 2003 @ 9:29 am
  30. You must care that much, too, after all, you commented. :D Happy flaming.

    Comment by Renee on November 18, 2003 @ 10:03 am
  31. Renee, surely you know better than to feed the trolls. ;)


    Comment by Jan on November 18, 2003 @ 11:10 am
  32. Jan, LOL. Just paying my fee to cross the bridge.

    Comment by Renee on November 19, 2003 @ 9:47 am
  33. What is your name?
    What is your quest?
    What is your favorite color?

    Comment by Cameron on November 19, 2003 @ 5:58 pm

    Comment by BOB on March 24, 2004 @ 11:41 pm
  35. Um, BOB, it might not be wise to go around telling people you’re retarded. Then again, wisdom is not a quality one typically associates with retarded people.

    Comment by Levi on March 25, 2004 @ 8:26 am
  36. *throws in my two cents*

    There should be a distinction made somewhere in here.. most people don’t use smileys for higher level writing ( for example; college work or the like. Essays, anything professional or scholastic, etc.. [although, I must add, I have used smilies in college level work .. and gotten away with it..]) because smileys are not appropriate in these places. However, in everyday online usage they are useful in conveying emotion.

    Smilies are like slang, in a way. They convey something that could be conveyed other ways but would not necissarily have the same effect if conveyed in another way. ( nuances, nuances, lovely lovely nuances..)

    It sounds to me that the main problem you have with smilies is when, as a reader, you can’t understand them. The basic set of smilies ( ;), :D . :). :( . :|, etc..) aren’t that hard to figure out. The more complicated smilies should only be used when speaking with persons who already know them. Otherwise, it’s only civil to explain them first. It’s the same rule used in normal writing. You write to your audience. For example; I’m into anime.. I have friends who aren’t, so it’s just stupid for me to be typing -_-;;;; when I know that none of them understand what that means. o_0 the entire point of smilies is to convey emotion quicker than words can.

    I think there are worse things out there than smilies. Of course I’m addicted to smilies, so I’m just a little biased… but how about trying to understand leet speak. O_O .. things like: #3110 #0[^] 4|23 j00? for Hello how are you? … or capitalizing every other word. That one is highly annoying. HeLlO hOw ArE yOu. While not as hard to read, try reading a paragraph typed that way without getting annoyed.. )

    – CD ^_^

    Comment by Anonymous on April 24, 2004 @ 7:29 pm
  37. Ok… the people that are arguing for smilies i get, but seriously did someone actually write a forum about the superfluousity (its a word now) of smilies? isnt that REALLY superfluous?
    -Just Wondering

    Comment by Wondering on November 4, 2006 @ 10:00 am

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