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?
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.