The Compulsive Copyeditor

September 13, 2013

On the Expressiveness of Certain Emoticons

Filed under: language evolving,typography — amba12 @ 11:15 am

It’s funny, but the last straw that is pushing me off Facebook is its insistence on forcing me to use bland and ugly little yellow smileys in place of emoticons. When I go to “Help” and type in “disable smileys,” its only reply is to instruct me on how to express my emotions by choosing the right smiley. Ugh. This totalitarianism of trivia, this fake individualism — like declaring your sovereign individuality by customizing your Starbucks latte; didn’t this computer-enabled prefab multiple-choice simulacrum of self-expression start with Cabbage Patch dolls? If they presented you with enough choices, like enough pixels, would it be indistinguishable from the real thing? /rant — anyway, this strikes me as insidious training for regimented consumerism. It is designed to train the chimp to press the right button to get the banana — or, better put, to give up the banana. Many bananas. It is turning us into capitalism’s lab animals or willing factory farm slaves, cash cows being mechanically milked on an Orwellian dairy farm.

But why am I writing this on THIS blog? Because it just hit me that part of the pleasure of emoticons is that they are typography, thus close to the heart of people who love typesetting and print and find it a remarkably ductile medium of expression. Then there are the real dying breed, people who love handwriting, who were taught cursive and expressed their individuality by warping and deviating from its bland norm. You see, individuality isn’t totally asocial, but the best shared media have plenty of room for you to play with them and make them uniquely your own. Facebook has none of that, just these narrow, inflexible menus of “choices” that assume that all of us come in a few “flavors” and behave in the same predictable market-tested ways. It is a preview of how compatible the digital life is with the coming consumer totalitarianism.

Emoticons were such inspired shorthand that I actually have been known to hand-write them into letters and journals, usually :-P (that expression of happy idiocy) or :\ They are not all equally expressive, nor are all possible emotions equally well expressed (which just leaves more room for invention. :) has always struck me as too much like a smile button and too wan and watery a smile; :D is somewhat better for both joy and laughter. Worry and anger (even this WordPress theme won’t let me type them) aren’t very well represented because < is too steep a unibrow. I like :S for ambivalence; it is precisely an emoticon for the Greek happy/sad theatre mask. The font that you are emoting in obviously plays a part as well.

But :( , now — I could wax eloquent on the eloquence of :( , the distillation of an emotion — rendered glum or poignant or downhearted by context. One can just feel one's head sinking and chest hollowing in empathy evoked by those three magic marks.

It was Facebook's refusal to allow me to pair this :( with this

that finished Facebook off for me.


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