The case for smileys in formal writing

Originally posted October 2011

When I received a text message from my partner signed off with a <3 I had to trust Google to provide a translation. I’m not really up to date with smileys. The experience however got me thinking: maybe these cute combinations of punctuation marks should make the move from our casual to our serious communication … or not.

Before your condemn this post to the category of wacky ideas that have no place in reality, consider these arguments, for and against.

They convey emotion and can therefore avoid miscommunication

Emoticons, the “correct” name for smileys have been with us for a while. There are numerous precedents for punctuation combinations dating back to telegraph days. Consensus however credits computer scientist Scott Falhman for introducing :) and :( as a way of distinguishing serious and joke posts on his university’s notice board.

They took off as a way of conveying sarcasm or irony helping readers correctly interpret plain text, especially in quick or brief communication forms such as email, text or instant messages.

The current common list of emoticons covers, among others: happy, crying, worried, teasing, surprised, sad, mad and perplexed. I can think of numerous occasions where these would have come in handy.

They cross cultural and language barriers

Most emoticons depict a facial expression, making them relatively easy to interpret regardless of language, cultural or age. Ok, you have to squint sometimes and turn your head on its side, but once you get the knack they are self explanatory.

Perhaps our annual reports will never be signed off with a 😉 but you never know 😉

Posted in Punctuation, Random thoughts Tagged with: ,

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