Hi Writers,
Oh, the guilt I felt when I read this New York Times article about emoticon usage:
Just Between You and Me

Here’s a brief excerpt (but I recommend reading the piece in full): There’s also a link to a full-range of emoticons for the aficionado.

“Emoticons, the smiling, winking and frowning faces that inhabit the
computer keyboard, have not only hung around long past their youth
faddishness of the 1990s, but they have grown up. Twenty-five years
after they were invented as a form of computer-geek shorthand,
emoticons — an open-source form of pop art that has evolved into a
quasi-accepted form of punctuation — are now ubiquitous.

longer are they simply the province of the generation that has no
memory of record albums, $25 jeans or a world without Nicole Richie.
These Starburst-sweet hieroglyphs, arguably as dignified as dotting
one’s I’s with kitten faces, have conquered new landscape in the lives
of adults, as more of our daily communication shifts from the spoken
word to text. Applied appropriately, users say, emoticons can no longer
be dismissed as juvenile, because they offer a degree of insurance for
a variety of adult social interactions, and help avoid serious

I have to admit to being a user/abuser and an enabler of emoticon usage. As the moderator of the Writer’s Digest forum I’ve seen first-hand how a well-placed emoticon (on the forum, we call our multi-expression guy the little blue man), can:

• give levity to a sarcastic post ; )

• cheer up a person in low spirits : )

• share the pain in someone’s rejection : (

Emoticons may have a place in forums and casual e-mails where discourse moves fast—so the intent of the writer can be quickly surmised. But will their widespread usage ultimately dumb down our language?

Are you an emoticon user/abuser? Should writers try to avoid them in their online writing?

Keep Writing,
P.S. Here’s an exercise in writerly restraint: I challenge you to go emoticon-free for one full week. Try it and we’ll follow up on this in next week’s post.

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9 thoughts on “EMOTICON NOTIONS

  1. Morgan Barnhart

    I don’t think it’s emoticons that are going to dumb down our language. I think it will be internet speak. With the ‘how r u’ ‘lol’ and ‘nm’ which replaces whole words to make it "easier" to type. Abbreviating words can be helpful, but the internet language is discouraging people from learning how to spell and good grammar. It won’t be emoticons that destroy our speech, it’ll be internet language.

    However, I love to use emoticons. 🙂 Sometimes maybe a bit much, but they’re really fun.

  2. KarenDD

    I go back and forth on this. I’ll put them in and when I look at the context of what I’m writing they sometimes seem "immature" and yes trite as well. I want something "fresh" –but what’s new?! Nothing. And I realize that before emoticons, language itself conveyed emotion and so in that regard, I’d have to agree that the long term affect might be the dumbing down of our language (along with everything else in our culture). Still, in the right place, with the right message – namely something short and sweet — and not serious, a little graphic could serve as a little candy for the eyes.

  3. Deborah Bouziden

    I have to admit to being a user of emoticons. Yikes! To be perfectly honest, I haven’t given much ‘thought’ to using them. I tend to throw them in when I feel they are appropriate or I’d be joking if I was having a face to face conversation. I don’t think I abuse them, however, I will give second thought to using one now that I have read the piece.

  4. Ritergal

    I use them in e-mail, but limit myself to two per message, lest they grow trite and stale. This occasionally calls for a bit of rewriting when simply deleting isn’t enough. But I haven’t even been tempted to use them in my blog, and I can’t imagine them being appropriate in "serious" publications in the thirty-some years remaining in my lifetime.

  5. Judith Harlan

    In the business world, where I spend so much of my time, the emoticons seem out of place to me. In fact, when emailing clients about creating online content or blogs for them, I never, ever use the smileys. Maybe I, too, am a perfectionist, but I think I should be able to get all the feeling and heart into my words that I need. If I feel that I need a smiley, I go back and evaluate my prose. Then, in almost 100 percent of the cases, I rewrite.
    Having said that, I admit that I use them in casual emails with friends. And I also like the occasional ; > back from them and the supporting : (

  6. Paige

    I don’t use them often but {gotta love those buts} for many years, perhaps 20, since before hard drives were available on the computers I have put a smiley face in the 1st letter of my name. It has kind of become a trade mark of mine at work and on hand written letters.
    I can go a week or more with out the emoticon but my smiley face…

    Have a great day