Ha Ha Only Serious

by Charles Miller on January 18, 2006

My descent into emoticon hell took some time. Back when I spent almost all my Internet days on Usenet, I would pride myself on not having succumbed to the need to pepper my communication with smileys. Later, I took the same attitude with me to IRC (largely because I was introduced to IRC by the friends I'd made on Usenet). I can't remember at what point after venturing beyond those circles I became addicted to unnecessary punctuation1, but it has now reached a point where I can't say anything over chat or instant-messaging that's even remotely meant in the slightest hint of jest without appending a fucking ':)' to it. Worse, the disease has spread even to my less formal emails.

Tonight, however, was when I knew I was completely gone. After writing on my blog the sentence "Consider the near-inevitable failure of your company as the price you pay to make tomorrow a better place for us all", I found myself agonising to the point of losing sleep over whether I should have appended a smiley to ensure everybody knew that yes, I understood the implications of what I was saying, and that it was meant as a joke.

A small corner of my brain rebelled:

"Shouldn't that be obvious to any reader with more than two brain-cells to rub together?"

"Well, yes. But why not just put a smiley there anyway, just in case?"

"Because written English survived quite happily for centuries without needing punctuation to delineate humour. I can almost understand why it might be necessary in back-and-forth conversational one-liners, but I don't see why we have to start corrupting honest prose just because some readers are getting too used to being spoon-fed joke-markers to work it out for themselves."

"You can be a real bastard, you know."

"Deal with it. I'm your brain and you're stuck with me."

1 Well, that unnecessary punctuation in particular. My predilection towards cramming as many commas into a sentence as I can has been around much longer.

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