Emoticons: to use or not to use?
I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile– some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.
Vladimir Nabokov, 1969
Emoticons, those smiling/frowning/Homer Simpson faces that come out of the punctuation marks on your keyboard, are a different sort of written communication. They can add warmth to a chilly business e-mail, or liven up a chat in a more dignified fashion than that abominable LOL.
However much I disapprove of out-loud LOLs and OMGs, I did always love how ROTFLMAO reverberated in my brain after I would read it on screen. Something about it reminds me of Animal from the Muppets:
Emoticons and Impropriety
Just like this blog, emoticons tread a fine line between informality and professionalism. They give you more power over how your words will be interpreted. But when is it appropriate to insert one into electronic communication? Is their use ever required? What do they say about the writer? It’s been over ten years since e-mail came into common use: are there any hard-and-fast rules on when it’s okay to put a smiley face on that “nice to meet you?”
SEND, a 2007 book on e-mail by two publishing veterans, has some great suggestions. At the time of publication, the New Yorker even said they had “put themselves forward as the genre’s Strunk and White” (and you know how I feel about Strunk and White).
For David Shipley, deputy editorial page editor and Op-Ed page editor of The New York Times, and Will Schwalbe, former editor-in-chief of Hyperion Books, clarity goes hand-in-hand with e-mail etiquette.
If you don’t consciously insert tone into an email, a kind of universal default tone won’t automatically be conveyed. Instead, the message written without regard to tone becomes a blank screen onto which the reader projects his own fears, prejudices, and anxieties.
How Far Should You Emote?
Sometimes that insertion of tone is awkward, especially if it implies that your own words aren’t good enough to communicate your meaning. I agree with Shipley and Schwalbe, however, that a little awkwardness can be necessary. It’s certainly preferable to offending or otherwise alienating your reader. Indeed, after reading that Talk of the Town piece on their book, I started using far more exclamation points in my own e-mails, as they recommend, to illustrate enthusiasm for a project or emphasize my receptiveness to new ideas.
But I stopped short of using a Homer Simpson face ( ~(_8^(|) to soften up my blunders. Although Shipley and Schwalbe rubber-stamp their use, I am still chary with emoticons. You never know what your addressee might think.
When my boyfriend and I first courted over e-mail, I sent him long and literary letters lacking any parenthetical faces. Could I have been trying to keep him on his toes during those uncertain months of long distance? Or were we just doing our best to inject some old-fashioned epistolary romance into an electronic age?
Perhaps I just guessed early what I learned today: he hates emoticons.