Emoticons Emote. They Just Do.

Posted on September 15, 2011

4


The text read: “Let’s do dinner on Sunday. I’m up late most nights anyway ;)”
My thoughts: Uh, why exactly is there a wink after that statement? What the hell does this guy mean? What is he expecting? Maybe there’s something I need to clarify…

Clarify, I did, and it turned out to be a good thing too. That wink meant exactly what it seemed like it meant and it was something that needed to be clarified. We didn’t do dinner on Sunday for the simple reason that he doesn’t hang out with girls who won’t sleep with him. I was glad he’d chosen to insert a wink there. I was saved an extremely awkward moment of “Um, it was great seeing you, but there will be no goodnight kiss. Do have a good life, won’t you?” A rare moment of gratitude for the winking smiley. Or any smiley, in general.

They’ve become so popular that almost every sentence, complete or incomplete, written on Facebook, during chats or in text messages is literally punctuated with emoticons. I kid you not. Look at the text that guy had sent me. Instead of a period, there lay a smiley. People send messages saying, “So good to see you here :) hope you’re doing well.” with a smiley added in there to separate the two sentences and to let the reader know that in case the words did not convey that it is, indeed, good to see the reader, here’s a smiley. The well-placed smiley will leave no ambiguity as to their previously doubted emotion.

Smileys and emoticons have become substitutes for words. Instead of saying “I’m glad!” we write, and I quote, “:D”. To let someone know our apparent foibles are simply an attempt at humour we do our best to insert “:P” wherever we may have left some room for doubt. Why don’t we just phrase sentences in a way which doesn’t create that sort of confusion? But that’s impossible, isn’t it? How could we put into words the cheekiness that is the emoticon “:P”? Why should we even try, right? Why use superfluous words where we can use a combination of a colon and a worthy partner?

Where we’d say, “You’re sweet! You made me smile.” we now say, “You’re sweet :)” because what if the person reading it cannot tell that our response to their compliment is a wholly positive one. Other times instead of saying “I agree!” another smiling smiley is inserted. Sometimes we might even say, “You made me smile :)” with the smiley being part of our cleverly devised contingency plan to take care of the possibility that the other party does not know what we mean by the word smile. We’ve drawn a little picture and shown them exactly what we meant. We’ve got all our bases covered. Good job. Our language teachers must be so proud. Can we think of a time when written language was all symbols and drawings?

Maybe words just aren’t enough sometimes. Maybe there are emotions which cannot be expressed through the beauty of language, and so we have the ultra-happy people conveying their feelings via “I’m so happy :)))))))))))))”. To translate this, remember that the more the brackets, the happier (or sadder, as the case may be) the person employing them. No words could have been substituted for those. Even saying “I’m so very happy!” or “I couldn’t possibly be happier!” or “I’m on cloud 9, folks, and mine’s so much higher than yours!” wouldn’t suffice. Nothing else says it quite like 10-15 parentheses.

See, I’m not an unreasonable person. I do understand that emoticons are an interesting and convenient part of the language we use to communicate–God knows I’m quite prone to using them too–and I know that they can be very useful, especially when trying hard to not alienate or offend people, but why on earth aren’t they used prudently?! Why must messages look like they were typed by a cross between a 21st-century human and a prehistoric caveman? Since realising this a day or two ago, I’ve consciously tried to reduce the emoticons I use. We can make an effort to use unambiguous words instead. In the process, we’ll discover that it is possible to say “I miss you!” without using a hyperbolic sad smiley and “I’ll see you tomorrow! So happy! Yay!” without requiring a “:D” to express enthusiasm. Even “LOL,” while an abbreviation, is used so frequently, so often, in such a ubiquitous manner that it may as well be an emoticon. It is used to begin sentences and to follow sentences in order to indicate levity, mild amusement and presence of harmless statements. Many times it is also used as a way to end a conversation while trying to somehow still be polite. Let me illustrate with an example:

Me: Are you looking forward to the weekend?
Not me: Yes :D
Me: I’m excited too. The weather’s finally supposed to be nice and sunny.
Not me: You’re excited about the weather :)
Me: Well, I want to have brunch on a patio somewhere. Aren’t you happy about the break from the rain?
Not me: Sure, why not? :P
Me: lol
End of conversation…for a long, long time.

Posted in: Musings, The Dailies