One Person’s Joy, Another’s Curse

Dislike emoticonEmoticons. Some people love them. Others find them irritating. I’m in the latter camp. That’s why I enjoyed a comic in the paper this week.* A fifty-something husband and wife are talking as she’s typing on her desktop.

Jeannie: I wish I was a little more computer-literate.

Charlie: I don’t really care for that term.

Jeannie: Why not?

Charlie: I don’t like ascribing literacy to people who think emoticons are a part of speech.

I am forced to respond with a wholehearted “ditto!”

I find the evolution of alphabets fascinating. Primitive pictographs amaze me. Emoticons, not so much.

I have to admit that I occasionally use the primitive :) to indicate that something is intended to be humorous, rather than serious. It has served as useful shorthand for written speech, conveying what would be evident in the intonations of oral communication.

However, this nouveau-punctuation has mutated into an abomination. Today there are innumerable graphic variations of that once modest “smile.” And some of them are truly bizarre.

Emoticons run amuck are an evidence of humanity’s demand for novelty. In The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis shows how an incessant demand for something new saps the joy out of the present moment. As the senior demonic tempter declares:

Now just as we pick out and exaggerate the pleasure of eating to produce gluttony, so we pick out this natural pleasantness of change and twist it into a demand for absolute novelty. This demand is entirely our workmanship. If we neglect our duty, men will be not only contented but transported by the mixed novelty and familiarity of snowdrops this January, sunrise this morning, plum pudding this Christmas. . . . Only by our incessant efforts is the demand for infinite, or unrhythmical, change kept up. This demand is valuable in various ways. In the first place it diminishes pleasure while increasing desire.

I realize it’s a bit of a stretch to apply this passage to the subject at hand, but the principle remains the same. When is enough enough? When it comes to emoticons, apparently, that level has yet to be reached. 

I am not seriously suggesting that there is a conspiracy going on here, but one never knows.

Please forgive me if I have offended any Mere Inkling readers who may suffer from emoticonaddiction or some other disorder. It is not my desire to upset you. Feel free to continue your unbridled (ab)use of these tiny monstrosities.

Simply include me (and C.S. Lewis) alongside Charlie in saying, “I don’t like ascribing literacy to people who think emoticons are a part of speech.”

Postscript: I must confess to finding one set of emoticons rather amusing. If you are familiar with Spock from Star Trek, you too may enjoy these Vulcan emoticons that exhibit the full range of Vulcan expression.



* You can see the strip I am referring to here.


18 thoughts on “One Person’s Joy, Another’s Curse

  1. I used to maintain a lively paper correspondence with another Writer long before emoticons came into use, and we frequently, inadvertently, bruised one another’s feelings by making statements intended to be sarcastic or satiric that were taken seriously by the other. This happened so often that she finally exclaimed that she wished there were some sort of typographic indication she could make to show she was only teasing. She suggested >), which she said was meant to indicate “a tongue in cheek.” We both used that for years before the standard :), ;) and LOL. Much butthurt was avoided.

    I, too, am a highly literate person in the traditional sense, but find that emoticons give nuanced meaning to my text that nothing else does quite so effectively and succinctly. So, count me strongly in the emoticon camp. :)

    1. Tongue in cheek… that’s a useful one. I actually distinguish between the typographic emoticons (as I alluded to in my post) and the myriads of cartoonish variants that are increasing exponentially.

      1. Yes, images along that line don’t resonate with me. That said, I love symbols in general. Simpler ones appeal more to me than colorfully chaotic alternatives.

  2. I love primitive pictographs, too. People are always trying to put concepts and ideas into some hard/written form. There’s a ton of words – but remember when you could tell a lot about the writer’s state of mind/emotions from the way the handwriting was formed on the page? Sad to lose a bit of that – maybe the emoticons are an attempt to add that back in? I’m not fond of them as they seem a bit lazy…a short cut. But sometimes, if you have an odd sense of humor (like me) or don’t know the person well, a smilie might be useful.
    (People who make these things up have waaaay to much time on their hands/computer keyboards?)

    1. Through the years I’ve met a number of people with sense-of-humor-deficiencies who require extra cues to know something is intended to be a joke… well, either their “deficient,” or I just may have an “odd” sense of humor like you… Any clues as to how one tells which is the actual case?

  3. I love the idea of emoticons as shorthand. I use them a lot with friends (but only a select handful; there ARE a lot of emoticons and I don’t even know what some are supposed to mean!). But I do enjoy throwing in a o.O face to indicate I think something is weird, rather than saying, “That guy is weird” or “I was really weirded out,” which just seems awkward to say directly. I am also naturally expressive with my face, so I like having a bit of that in conversation.

    I also agree with those who have mentioned that throwing in a smiley face is useful for keeping people from becoming offended by something that was meant as a joke. Tone can be hard to convey on the Internet.

    That said, I do like to think I can express myself well without the use of emoticons. I reserve them for casual correspondence and don’t feel reliant on them in more formal communications.

    1. I love that face, too, though I usually do O_o I also like ^_^ when I am contented/happy. A lot depends, also, on the type of conversation going on. I rarely, if ever (I don’t think I ever have, but I haven’t checked) use emoticons in blog posts, and certainly not in my fiction writing, but in comments and informal e-mails I use them all the time. :) <- case in point. Sorry, Rob! <3

      1. I use :) fairly often, for the reasons you cite in your comment below. I don’t real use any others. Don’t recall consciously ever use them in a post, but I do feel “casual” enough to use them in the comment section.

  4. “Like everything else, perhaps the key is moderation. ;)”
    Brevity is still a virtue, but so is intelligibility.
    My line of writing is right up there with religion and politics. I use smilies and grins (my natural smile) all the time to communicate friendliness and caring.
    As for all the rest… you are more than welcome to dislike them! :-)

  5. I love the Vulcans! I have to say that I enjoy using emoticons, which probably makes me un-literary. :) (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!) I learned the hard way to always use the wink one ;) on one of the cattle forums I frequent. I made a joking remark once–fairly obvious to me that it was a joke–and the person it was addressed to was offended. I replied that I was only joking and edited my comment to include a wink. She was mollified and commented back that her family says she takes everything too seriously. No kidding! So from now on I make sure, for those super-serious types, that I include a wink to let everyone know I’m joking.

    1. Yes, some people are way too sensitive and willing to see a slight where none is intended. Thanks also for the reminder to use the world mollify more often. It’s been a word I seldom used, but a practice I have far too often had to engage in. ;)

  6. First of, Vulcan emoticons made me laugh. A lot.

    Second, while I understand where you are coming from, I would like to point out that emoticons are filling a real void that has not, as yet, been filled by anything else. While the written word is an effective form of communication, it lacks the tone, body language, and other indicators of intent present in face-to-face communication.

    I would be able to afford something nice if I had a dollar for every time someone has taken my typed words in a way I had not intended. Sometimes, I am not even sure how they were able to twist what I wrote into what they “heard” as they read.

    So, yes, emoticons are probably over-used, but I would argue that they still fill an important role in internet communication when used correctly. And now, to indicate that my tone, while earnest, is not grumpy, I amend my words with :)

Leave a Reply to robstroud Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.