Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Coming To Your Emoticon Rescue

We're all so wired (and so wireless) these days, more and more of our communications takes place over email. Efficient? Yes. Effective? Yes. Nuanced? Well, not so much.

By and large, email messages don't have a tone of voice. EXCEPT FOR THE ONES THAT ARE IN ALL CAPS WITH MULTIPLE EXCLAMATION POINTS!!! (Sorry for shouting at you there.) Email misunderstandings, understandably, are pretty common. Sometimes a person sounds angry when they're simply rushed. Or, a typo can send the recipient off in the wrong direction — auto correct typos can be particularly confusing. Sarcasm doesn't come across at all. And jokes fall flat more often than not.

In cyberspace, no one can hear you laugh.

Many years ago, in 1982 which was the dawn of time by Internet standards, a Carnegie Mellon researcher named Scott Fahlman recognized that the other geeks in his computer science lab were trying to infuse humor into an innately humorless medium. He suggested using punctuation marks to denote jokes. (-:

And the emoticon was born!

BTW, how cool is it that an actual person came up with something as ubiquitous as the smiley emoticon? How cool is it that there's a record, proof positive, of his invention? Twenty years after his brainstorm, researchers were able to find his original email in the university's computer department back-up tapes. Pretty cool, Scott! Pretty cool.

Moving on.

If you have a tween or a teen, you're always struggling to keep up with their friendships, fads, and fashion. You're also usually a step behind when it comes to technology, media and how your daughter or son communicates with her or his peers. Kids are adept at adopting the newest, fastest ways to talk amongst themselves.

Here is a quick glossary of the most basic emoticons that can help you the next time you're checking emails or text messages ... um, with their permission, of course. (-;

Smiling (or joking)





Tongue sticking out

Straight face/no reaction

The range of facial expressions can also be executed with a pair of shades using the character 8. This might mean that the person is a nerd. Or it might mean that the person is cool. (Or, it might just mean that your tween wears glasses.)


Once you've mastered the basics, you can move on to elaborate emoticon pictograms. These include:

Dazed and confused


Listening with headphones

And, I love cats (well, why not?)

Other cultures have developed their own dialects of emoticons. Here, for example, is an Asian symbol that means "typical American ..." Hmmmm.
| ̄ ̄|
( ´_⊃`)

This list is by no means complete. Like any modern language, Emoticonalese is always evolving. Just when you think you know enough to converse with your tween, he or she will have moved on. Maybe this is one of those life-long learning opportunities. For example, I recently learned a valuable new symbol that I plan to use as often as I can afford to.

Bye for now. I'm on my way to *$$$. Get it? ;-)

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