Where Punctuation Fails, Do Emoticons Speak?


A friend told me yesterday that he was banning me from ever using the exclamation point again. OK, I’ll admit it: I’ve been known to use a few too many exclamation points in Instant Message chats. I tried to justify my usage of them, telling my friend that I don’t ever use them in articles or in headlines. That would seem like a journalism faux paux.

In IM chats, though, it’s tough conveying emotion without some sort of exclamatory punctuation mark. When I’m excited about something, periods just won’t do. They seem so final, so serious, so abrupt. Ocassionally, I’ll throw in a “haha” or a “lol” to indicate that I’m “laughing out loud,” even though nine times out of 10, I’m really not. Now, if I write “hahahahhahaha,” then I’m usually laughing out loud.

One of my friends from college can’t write an e-mail to our group of friends without including at least a half dozen exclamation points. A recent, 317-word e-mail that she sent to me last month included 17 exclamation points. At the end, was a smiley face. :0)

The New York Times ran an interesting article today about these friendly little cyber faces, commonly referred to as “emoticons”. The article, entitled “(-: Just Between You and Me ;-)”, talks about the growing number of people who are using emoticons. These expressive symbols are no longer just for teenagers chatting casually online. Now, professionals are using them when sending e-mails. I suppose where punctuation fails, emoticons speak.

Emoticons, which seem to be more popular now than ever, have been around for longer than I thought. According to the Times article, they are about 25 years old. To find out about their history, read the Times article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/29/fashion/29emoticon.html.

The article also highlights the fact that emoticons arent’ always parentheses with colons. One emoticon for sadness, for instance, is a symbol of what looks like two eyes crying: “QQ”. And check out this emoticon of a bearded, sun-glass wearing man: B-) ===>

I find it interesting when people put a space in between the eyes and the smile of their smiley face when chatting on IM. When you don’t put a space, the black and white sideways smiley face turns into a yellow, upright smiley face. Just as I like exclamation points, I like brightly-colored smiley face, too.

What if emoticons started popping up in journalism? What if, you were reading a story and after the nutgraph about colleges raising the cost of tuition, there was a face of frustration? :/ Or, what if journalists started using them after paragraphs in their story to convey the emotion displayed by the person they interviewed? I’m not suggesting this happen, and it’d probably be pretty weird if it did, but with the way things are going, it wouldn’t surprise me if emoticons crept their way into articles down the road.

They may be most fitting in columns, where subjectivity trumps objectivity, but either way, emoticons could be used to add flare to articles. More and more newspaper Web sites are asking people to submit videos and photos for publication. What if reporters asked people to start picking emoticons to go along with their quotes? I can just envision people calling the editor to complain about a reporters’ incorrect use of an emoticon … oh brother.

It might seem foolish to consider using emoticons in articles, but it’s also pretty interesting, especially in light of all the changes taking place in journalism and in general. Who would have thought 30 years ago that The New York Times would publish an article about punctuation marks that form smiley/sad faces? Who would have thought we’d have blogs, and that journalists would actually be encouraged to create them? Who knew the words “tag” and “friend” would become verbs with the creation of Facebook?

What’s next?

;>) 😮 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 🙂 ;( 😉 ;| :/ 8) !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!:( 🙂

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Poynter.org. Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at mjtenore@gmail.com.

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