Thursday, December 13, 2012

Don't Listen to Emoticon Naysayers


Just in case the word emoticons never wormed its way into your vocabulary bank or in case you simply choose to use the more amusing term happy face, here is what they are. They're little faces that we can use as a kind of punctuation. Sort of a roadmap to emotions rather than a map to alert us to pauses and full stops. Emoticons may be full color cartoons of faces or nothing more than a few typewritten squiggles like this: (-:

These days there is a whole range of emoticons, one for every emotion. My AOL e-mail program lets me add one wearing sunglasses with a click of my mouse. (Thanks to longtime SharingwithWriters subscriber Laura Hinds for making me aware that AOL has such a nifty feature!). And now I find that if I type an emoticon a certain way, Word will autocorrect it to a face that looks like this J.

You may wonder why I'm bothering to talk about emoticons in this blog. Well, they've gotten a bad rap of late. No, they aren't suitable for real business letters and that includes real business e-letters. But there is business and then there is business. Formal business letters rarely contain humor and often don't even contain straight-up, honest-to-goodness English words. Instead they lean toward the Latinate and boring. So, no. Emoticons aren't suitable or needed when we write formely even though lightening them up a bit might be a good idea.

When we're using e-mail—even some e-mail for semi-business needs—we may use a more colloquial voice. When we're tweeting, we don't have many characters to explain our meaning or intent and we may need a little three-character happy face help. When we're Facebooking, emoticons can keep our readers from misunderstanding us.

In other words, I think emoticons—used judiciously—can help us achieve a light voice that helps our marketing feel more casual, warmer, more fun.

This is the 30 year anniversary of the first smiley face. Scott Fahlman, a computer-science professor at Carnegie Mellon, first suggested using (-: He could probably see that people writing quick messages on a computer might misunderstand one another. That was 1982.

I personally took up the smiley face in about 1971 when Frank Loufrani created the one in yellow we all know. I just drew one in when I sent notes to folks. And yes, I remember the brouhaha when they became so popular so fast that Loufrani was receiving no credit or royalties for his artistic "invention." Later (1997) his son did a whole dictionary of smileys. I don't recall if he managed to get his royalties. And in 2008 iPhone keyboards began using emojis that included the dancing cat, an affectation that, lacking an iPhone, I completely missed.

So that's the story—even the history—in a nutshell. So what do you think? Do you really want to purge your entire life and correspondence of the fun and advantages that emoticons offer?

*I don't.

PS: Thanks to Time magazine, I had to do very little research for this blog. (-:
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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and how to books for writers including the award-winning second edition of, The Frugal Book Promoter: How to get nearly free publicity on your own or by partnering with your publisher; The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success; and Great Little Last Minute Editing Tips for Writers . The Great First Impression Book Proposal is her newest booklet for writers. She has three FRUGAL books for retailers including A Retailer’s Guide to Frugal In-Store Promotions: How To Increase Profits and Spit in the Eyes of Economic Downturns with Thrifty Events and Sales Techniques. Some of her other blogs are TheNewBookReview.blogspot.com, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor . If your followers at Twitter would benefit from this blog post, please use the little Green widget to let them know about this blog:

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