On Smilies

I’m a professional writer and editor, and I am torn – torn, I say! – when it comes to the use of smilies in informal writing. (I also don’t know whether the plural is “smilies” or “smileys,” but I prefer the former so that’s how it will be spelled throughout this OP.)

It’s pretty obvious from my collective posts here at the SDMB that I am a fan of smilies when it comes to informal writing (message boards, e-mails, text messages, instant messages, etc.). I believe that the purpose of writing is to communicate, and smilies help the writer achieve that purpose: before the time of smilies there were hundreds of thousands of miscommunications in writing, and now there are just handfuls of thousands. They may look too “cute” (especially the graphical ones, vs ASCII emoticons), and may call to mind junior high days of dotting i’s with hearts and flowers, but on the whole I think that they help to clarify tone in a medium where tone is notoriously hard to express. It’s appropriate that they have gained popularity at a time when many people are spending more and more time writing to people they don’t know.

That said, the part of me that writes for a living is always berating the part of me that loves smilies: if my writing were clear and effective enough, I wouldn’t need them! I know of a message board where the target audience is professional writers, and smilies of any kind are not allowed. And way back when I asked for critiques of my on-line personal ad, I was overwhelmingly urged to get rid of all the smilies (I reduced their number, but couldn’t get rid of all of them). But every time I tell myself, “Right, no more smilies,” I encounter a situation where not using one seems counterintuitive – the whole “if I can make sure that XXX knows I’m kidding up front, instead of having to explain it later among possibly hurt feelings, why not?” thing. But then I think that I’m somehow failing as a writer (again).

What say ye, Dopers? I know some folks here are vehemently anti-smilies: if you’re one of them, why? Likewise, if you’re a smiley addict, why do you think they’re acceptable?

Eh, I’m a copyeditor and I’m in favor of them. The trick is to know your venue, and it’s not a law that we must use 100% Standard English all the time. If we did, we’d often sound hopelessly pedantic. I often say things the wrong way on purpose – “useta could” for “used to be able to,” “froggy” for “foggy”, “sketti” and “tatoes” for “spaghetti” and “potatoes,” and so on – just because it’s fun. This drives my mother nuts, because she can’t grasp the idea that written and spoken English are two completely different animals, and she also cannot grasp how completely rude it is to correct people’s grammar when they speak unless you are their grammar instructor – and her grasp of grammar is quite Thistlebottomesque.

I also sign text messages to my husband with “XXOO” rather than writing “Imagine that I am giving you two kisses and two hugs.” So sue me. :dubious:

Smilies are a tool. In messageboard communication, they are often a useful one. Indeed, I would almost say that they are (or approach being) words in and of themselves. Limiting one’s use of available tools is silliness on par with refusing to make facial expressions because your words should carry your intent perfectly.
All IMO, of course. But I know I for one often miss the smilies of previous messageboards, because some of them allowed communication on new and interesting levels.

I don’t consider smilies on par with intentional grammar mistakes, though I’m acquainted with both; smilies are an Internet phenomenon that parallels real-life facial expressions, but… differently.

PS: :slight_smile: :rolleyes: :dubious: :cool: :smack: :stuck_out_tongue: :wally ;j :smiley: :confused: :o :eek: :frowning: :mad: … :wink:

I hate them with a passion.

And yet…

I so frequently come off as such a know-it-all jerk when posting* that I find them absolutely necessary.


  • Because I am a know-it-all jerk, of course. But you don’t need to know that.

Among folks who care about their writing, there seem to be two schools of thought:

  1. Smilies are more evil than Satan himself.

  2. Like everything else, there’s a time and a place.

I definitely agree with the second line. If a smiley improves the clarity or fits the style of something I’m writing, I’ll use it. Granted, it’s pretty rare that I feel it’s appropriate to use a smiley like we have here–for text only ones, I’m a bit more lenient. It feels less obtrusive that way, and I definitely don’t want ornaments detracting from my text.

I think we can all agree, however, that overusing smileys always makes things worse.

I have never understood this point of view. To me, the difference between :****) and :slight_smile: is simply that :slight_smile: is more easily seen and understood - nothing more. And some smilies, like :smack: or :wally or ;j or :dubious:, really can’t be expressed textually - that’s why they’re smilies. I mean, sure, we could all go around saying “:****dubious:” instead, but without knowing what :dubious: looks like a lot of the meaning is lost.

By the way, and I’ve wondered this since I joined these boards… why does :wally not have a closing colon? And why’s it named that, anyways?

I too write for a living and am torn about smilies. Sometimes I feel they are necessary to convey that I’m joking, in which case the little winking guy comes in handy. Sometimes I find myself using too many of them and have to make myself stop. I really only find them annoying if they’re overly used. One or two smilies in a post doesn’t bother me, but one at the end of every sentence tends to grate on my nerves.

The way I see it, message board posting and the like are a different form of communication than formal writing. Closer to conversation. In conversation you have body language and tone of voice to add to what you’re trying to communcate; it makes sense to me to have emoticon substitutes to make up for what you’re missing.

Actually…if you think about it it’s probably a bit like the difference between a conversation you have in person and one you have on the telephone. When telelphones were invented people probably had to adjust to more vocal cues over body language to get their point across.

As it is a conversation (if some are more formal than others) it seems rather natural to include emotional cues and what’s a better emotional cue than a face?

That said, of course we all know they can be abused and used in place of coherent writing but hey, some people can’t carry on a coherent conversation to begin with.

There, I said what I meant without resorting to smilies so :stuck_out_tongue:

… :smack:

Good question. Usually a putz will have a colon somewhere close by it. As for why it’s called that, that’s even before my time so I will leave it to others to explain.

You are all morons :eek:

You are all morons :confused:

You are all morons :wink:

Have very different meanings due to the smiley used, I think they are useful since they aid communication when used sensibly.

Well, you could also express yourself perfectly well without ever using the letter e and think yourself a better writer for it. But why would you?

Look here.