The Curse Of The Smiley

I have fallen into a horrible trap, and I am having an awful time pulling myself out of it.

You see, once upon a time on the internet, people got their underwear all twisted into knots, because if the person whose words they were reading didn't take the time to write clearly, and sometimes at length, it was easy to mistake their tone for being what it wasn't. Someone would write an e-mail in response to a joke that was sent to them that would read: Very funny, which would play in the receiver's head either as That was hilarious! or as That was not funny at all and you should be ashamed of yourself. And then, someone invented this to help clear up the miscommunication:


The smiley face made out of a colon and a right bracket meant that people could write Very funny :) and not end up making someone else think that they were a passive aggressive jerk who they should maybe disinvite from their plans to share birthday drinks with little paper umbrellas in them.

Until this year, I mostly avoided the :) — along with its other smiley cousins :( and :0 and ;) and so on — because I like to use my words. Also, they seem cutesy to me, and I'm not very much into cutesy, unless it's the Cute Overload kind of cutesy, because who can resist piglets being hosed down? But I digress.

Over the last year, I have become somewhat lax with my desire to communicate without punctuation abuse. It all started with an e-mail I wrote while I was in a hurry in which, rather than explain my excitement about going out for drinks on Thursday or choose to use a simple exclamation mark, I tacked on a little smiley face. I felt a little queasy and a touch disappointed in myself, but I let it go. It was but a small blight, all things considered, or so I thought.

Fast forward to the present day. I drop these little faces all over the internet without a thought. I even add them to sentences when they offer no discernible value. I type things like I really like your sweater :) and I have been missing you lately :( and even That make me want to punch someone in the throat >:(. My words make my intentions obvious, and yet I still do it. I have now gone from being too lazy to type a few extra clarifying words to cutesifying even my negative statements with abandon.

These emoticons breed much more than cute, though. They breed paranoia. I have come to rely on them so deeply to convey my tone that I fear leaving one out of an e-mail or a weblog comment for fear that my words will be misinterpreted. For example, I was just over at Fluid Pudding and left the following comment after she said that she was thankful for Canadians:

And the Canadians are thankful for you, I wrote.

I had to struggle with myself about whether to add a :) to let Angela know that I didn't mean that Canadians weren't thankful for her, which is ridiculous, because Canadians are nothing if not thankful for Angela Pudding. Every time I write a note to someone on the internet now, I fear that they will think I am being snide or insincere without that little emotional endnote, and it's ridiculous.

So, I am going on an smiley diet. I will swallow my punctuation-bred paranoia, try to use my words well, and stop cutesifying what needs not be cutesified. It pains me, but it must be done. I do not need to allow the fear that a comment that might cause Angela Pudding to think that Canadians hate her to keep me from more important tasks like keeping up with my Scrabble frenzy on Facebook.

Plus, I have more important punctuation worries to keep me up at night, like whether or not I am a bit too loosey goosey with the commas or if that is just a Britishism we Canadians hold onto because it's awesome.

UPDATED: Someone just dropped by my apartment offering to share a brief Bible thought with me about families, and jumbled up with all the other choice words I was thinking in response to the interruption were things like >:| and :<. I kind of hate myself right now. Why couldn't I just be compelled to kick kittens or something?

UPDATED AGAIN: I ended up in a conversation on Facebook and Twitter last week, thanks to Dad Gone Mad, that entailed making up the punctuation-based equivalent of a drawing of a vagina. It was decided that ({*}) won.

UPDATED FOR A THIRD TIME FOR REASONS OF TRANSPARENCY: I did kick a kitten today, but it was mostly by accident, because they always get underfoot, and she was trying to make a break for the outside when the Bible verse lady came to the door.

UPDATED FOR A FOURTH TIME, BECAUSE I HAVE PROBLEMS: Bible toting ladies makes Schmutzies kick kittens; hence, Jesus makes baby kittens cry.

Grace in Small Things: Part 325 of 365

Grace in Small Things: Part 324 of 365