Fun Facts About the Emoticon

The New York Times today featured Scott Fahlman, creator of the smiley face. Fahlman invented the character, which he called a "joke marker," back in 1982 to temper flaming in online discussion forums. Emoticon

A linguist analyzed millions of tweets to see how emoticons were used and found that 10% of tweets had some type of character. His reasoning was that people could more accurately describe emotion in a longer paragraph, but shorter messages may require explanation.

We could debate whether and how emoticons should be used in business writing ad nauseum. Proponents see the ocassional smiley as a way to ensure accurately interpreted messages, particularly to convey tone, often misunderstood in business email.

Opponents think emoticons are silly and unprofessional. Writing instructors worry about the degradation of the language. As one communication lecturer said, "Certainly I understand the need for clarity. But language, used properly, is clear on its own." A British radio personality said, "If anybody on Facebook sends me a message with a little smiley-frowny face or a little sunshine with glasses on them, I will de-friend them. I also de-friend for OMG and LOL. They get no second chance. I find it lazy. Are your words not enough? To use a little picture with sunglasses on it to let you know how you're feeling is beyond ridiculous."

A recent CNN article offers this sound advice: use an emoticon if you must, "But nix emoticons from any initial emails with new contacts."

Image source.

Discussion Starters:

  • When do you use emoticons in your writing?
  • In addition to initial emails, as CNN suggests, when would you avoid using emoticons in business email?