The worst thing about smileys...

There's no nose to punch, and no balls to kick. They just sit there with their idiot grins, "beaming happiness into the aether"... Makes me sick.

I rarely, if ever, use smiley faces in my online text. Sure, they're a great way to denote sarcasm or attempted humor, but so is just being funny. Not that everyone will always agree on what is or isn't humorous. Take the first three sentences of this post.

There's no nose to punch, and no balls to kick. ;-) They just sit there with their idiot grins, "beaming happiness into the aether"... ;-) Makes me sick. ;-)

Does it really need to be explicitly stated that those words are facetious, and meant to be sarcastic?

Smileys help readers interpret the tone of the writer, on teh intartubes and elsewhere. They give a very insignificant portion of body language context. They also require absolutely no effort or intelligence to be understood. It's not cheating, it's just intellectually lazy.

It puts the burden of comprehension on the writer- fair enough to an extent- and absolutely removes any requirement for thought about context from the reader. As they are used more and more, people rely on them more and more to the point where if a post is absolutely void of smileys, some people won't recognize even the most blatant uses of irony or sarcasm.

Worse still, you can see the mental goo-ing effects by the inane discussions on some forums over which smiley signifies irony versus sarcasm versus intentional abuse versus AIDS. (My favorite smiley is ALWAYS the AIDS smiley.) It's ridiculous. The connotative context of the word strings make it ironical or sarcastic, not which emoticon is closest.

If you disagree, fuck you.

\(And then notice how you didn't get the joking context of that last sentence.)

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Comment by Tom on February 5, 2010 at 12:27am
The internet is personal. That's why John D is justified in taking it personally. Personally, I agree.... with me.
Comment by Jason Spicer on February 3, 2010 at 6:56pm
Thisbe, I agree that it's basically rude to assume somebody is bilingual. And arrogant to assume that French is that second language. There are just too many languages floating about.

Felch, I didn't read George's bio, just some of his sampled pearls of wisdom. It doesn't shock me that he's part of the "Ooh! Shiny!" crowd. The split-second attention span of people like that is disturbing, and likely has no equivalent in the population prior to the advent of television, and MTV in particular. But I see emoticons and other fractured communications as a symptom of TV-induced ADD, rather than a cause of intellectual deterioration; the brain damage precedes the emoticons.

There, I've gone and done it. I've blamed television. I don't know if there is a Godwin's Law corollary about blaming TV for society's downfall. All I know is that makes me an old fogey. Still, television is the greatest mass neurological experiment on humans since the light bulb. I'd be surprised if it didn't have some kind of side effects. Heck, maybe even primary effects.
Comment by Jason Spicer on February 3, 2010 at 1:22pm
Felch, the George files are pathetically hilarious. I can't help thinking English is his second language, but he is an excellent example of what you been speakening. Still, George obviously has problems with more than simple communication skills. He seems to be brain-damaged generally. I'm pretty sure that, in an earlier era, he would have been pumping gas, or something equally mentally demanding.

I quite agree that an incoherent writer is almost certainly an incoherent thinker. But I think this kind of linguistic splatter is simply more abundant than it used to be, because text-based communications technology is now ubiquitous and required for most job functions. Technology has simply exposed us to the submerged part of the iceberg. I don't see professional or academic discourse as significantly degraded. Well, not since everybody stopped learning Latin back in the 50s, anyway.

At least, that's my opinion, pending any actual research results into the matter. I suspect that simply due to population and economic growth, there is a lot more high-quality writing than ever before. The question is whether that is changing on a per-capita basis. I don't believe casual observation can determine that.
Comment by Tom on February 3, 2010 at 3:42am
Try to understand that I was talking about forms of communication no shorter than emails, forum posts, or blogs. I should have made the length clear. If you're on twitter, a colon and a paren are more efficient in the 140 characters than two h's and two a's. Also, instant messaging and texting strive to be as fast as possible, and as short and information dense as possible. Those are the media where emoticons were born, where they serve definable, understandable, purpose; and the places they should stay.

Languages that don't change and adapt die. The more resistant to change/adaptation the faster they are replaced with more lossy forms that can better incorporate new ideas. That's fine, even if I didn't like that, I understand there's nothing to be done about it.

However, if I'm writing person correspondence, or ponderously long refutations of believer bullshit, and I say something obviously sarcastic (like "Oh, yeah, I completely agree that your non-controlled, non-blinded, post hoc data fitting modalities were reasonable. Please pardon my silly obsessive need for (what're those things called again?)... uhm, oh yeah!.. reality, science, and facts, in my science.") it's tedious to watch the horror play-out, and read the fall-out. So, now I'm the bad guy because I didn't include enough stimulating paradolia with my comments on the proper way to ROAST BABIES for our "HAHA! They think we're Atheists but really we're Satanists Day"? Worse are the times when people who otherwise agree with me tell me the sarcasm would be less scathing if I'd just add some friendly little smileys to tone down the vitriolic aspects. Or that it impinged on the message.

The point was made that smileys are ways of passive aggressively hiding intent, and I agree. It's easy enough to see on forums where people make snide comments to someone and "soften" it with smileys. Anecdotally, I'm on a forum where I know many/most of the people IRL and I'd say my non-scientific sampling shows the two most common reasons for the use of smileys in a post would appear to be either "because they're just so cute!" or for passive aggressive masking.

Take, for instance, John D who really hates how the big mean OP was rude and mean and personally offended him. And then points out that "teh intartubes" isn't funny completely missed the ironic tone of the usage. Notice how the phrase sits in the sentence like a steaming elephant turd in the middle of an office waiting room. (I'll point it out explicitly should anyone need help: It's obviously, glaringly, out of place.)

An Aside:
I know, I know. I hear you all screaming it at me across the electrons, spittle splashing wetly against your screens: "DON'T FEED THE TROLL!" Bah, I say. Watch, I say. This will be ... predictable.

A second aside:
The Nerd had the absolute best critical reply, so far. It relies on a false dichotomy of either you do this all of the time or never; but the sarcasm is hard to refute.
Comment by Jason Spicer on February 3, 2010 at 1:35am
Hey, I don't like emoticons either. For one thing, they're rotated 90 degrees from the text. My neck doesn't bend that far. All I'm saying is that shorthand has its uses. So does duct tape. That doesn't mean I want a house built out of it.

My point about irony is that no matter how well you write it, somebody will take it literally, and no matter how sincerely you write, somebody will read it as irony. It's not clear to me at all that this confusion is a function of illiteracy or stupidity. Intelligent and sophisticated people can be mistaken in this. Probably because irony depends on the deeper meaning sounding an awful lot like the surface meaning. Identical, you might say. Saying one thing while meaning another is fraught with the possibility for misunderstanding. Comes with the territory.

And let me suggest that the kind of truly illiterate troglodytes responsible for the gibberish in your screen capture below have always been with us. But now they have internet access, so they're more visible. These are merely the same class of people who, 20 years ago, would never put pen to paper. Technology may have unleashed them upon us, but last time I checked, university degrees, replete with language composition requirements, are still much sought after. We need not fear the debasement of the language or literature on account of the mouth-breathers. They are not likely to vote. I'm more concerned about people with a good grasp of language but no grounding in reality. They can do a lot of damage because they can sound intelligent. Incoherence usually defeats itself.
Comment by Denise Deiloh on February 3, 2010 at 1:23am
Comment by JayBarti on February 2, 2010 at 10:36pm
I enjoy writing, so I try and avoid them most of the time, but I can see why people like to use them.

There are times I feel they are appropriate and use them. The amount of emoticon and shorthand depends on the mode of communication, and how much information I actually need to communicate.

If the sum total of information I need to convey is in the range of hi, yes, no, go and ready. Emoticons and txt shorthand is all you are likely to get.
Comment by Jason Spicer on February 2, 2010 at 10:35pm
"Communication is reduced to the level of baboons flinging dung at each other."

Or Diogenes farting his political dissent. Just sayin'. And doesn't Poe's Law suggest that ironists walk a perpetual fine line between lampoon and endorsement of the position they fake, regardless of the sophistication of the audience?

I'm all in favor of people being discerning readers and diligent writers, but this hand-wringing sounds just the teensiest bit like complaining about the debased nature of the youth of Athens, ca 400BCE.

Is it dumbed-down newspeak, or ephemeral slang? Can't people who care about the crafts of reading and writing simply ignore that question? Write well. If people can't understand you, that's their loss. Perhaps you will inspire them to learn.
Comment by Jason Spicer on February 2, 2010 at 10:18pm
I'm ambivalent about emoticons. On the one hand, I pride myself on my writing. On the other hand, emoticons can be extremely efficient. I can understand why they abound in the world of texting and chatting. They're shorthand. I think it really just depends on the kind of writing you're doing. They obviously have no place in an essay. They cheapen creative writing. But they're almost necessary in an instant messaging conversation.

I don't see that they actually serve to take the edge off of sarcasm or even work to denote that a remark was meant in jest. I've seen emoticons misinterpreted just as badly as insufficiently telegraphed irony. I swear sometimes people imagine little devil's horns on top of the smiley. At best, an emoticon can convey the broad emotion you are currently feeling, say in quick response to somebody else's joke. You don't really have a comment, but want to convey appreciation. Though in that case, I prefer the convention of spelling out "heh, heh" or "ha ha". Not a big fan of LOL or ROFLMAO. Unless ROFLMAO is actually a reference to the Chinese leader's interest in misspelled new age therapies.

And what's an AIDS smiley? I haven't heard of that.
Comment by Little Name Atheist on February 2, 2010 at 9:46pm
Heh. I hate emoticons. People write passive-aggressive pap and then expect to get away with it by posting incorrect punctuation. They're like a a silent laugh track to an unfunny sitcom.

Once upon a time, people got across humour by having good writing skills. Now, many just abuse punctuation instead of learning how to fully express themselves.



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