emoticons & emojiOK in email or texts, not in formal writing

Emoti­cons are ty­po­graphic il­lus­tra­tions, usu­ally made of punc­tu­a­tion char­ac­ters, in­tended as short­hand for cer­tain au­tho­r­ial in­tent that might not oth­er­wise be ap­par­ent in a short dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Since 1982, they’ve been part of the in­ter­net (when that word was still capitalized).

Lat­terly they’ve been dis­placed by emoji, which are sin­gle pic­to­r­ial char­ac­ters that ac­com­plish the same thing. In­deed, emoji are ba­si­cally lig­a­tures for emoticons.

Still, emoti­con in­no­va­tion con­tin­ues, most promi­nently kao­moji, which are emoti­cons that use longer com­bi­na­tions of Japan­ese and other non-Latin char­ac­ters. Most famously—


As a ty­pog­ra­pher and writer, I avoided emoti­cons for many years, think­ing them je­june. But as I found my­self need­ing to cor­re­spond with more strangers, I grudg­ingly ac­ceded. My go-to emoti­con—the short winker ;)—has helped pre­vent my at­tempts at dry hu­mor from be­ing mis­in­ter­preted. Fur­ther­more, Bryan Gar­ner (see bib­li­og­ra­phy) en­dorses emoti­cons. So I’m per­suaded that they’re not con­tribut­ing to the de­cline of world cul­ture. Much, anyhow.

Three caveats, however—

  1. Emoti­cons and emoji, even more so than am­per­sands, are ca­sual short­hand. So in non-ca­sual set­tings—for in­stance, on your ré­sumé—don’t.

  2. Overuse of these sym­bols is just as ir­ri­tat­ing as the overuse of ques­tion marks and ex­cla­ma­tion points, or all caps. If you find your­self punc­tu­at­ing every sen­tence with :-) to avoid mis­un­der­stand­ings, learn to write better.

  3. Though emoti­cons look mostly the same every­where, emoji can ren­der dif­fer­ently among de­vices and plat­forms. So don’t count on nuance.

by the way
  • Side­ways emoti­cons should match the ori­en­ta­tion of your writ­ing sys­tem. So in Eng­lish, a smi­ley is :-), not (-:

  • In 2018, an i­Phone bug was dis­cov­ered where sim­ply send­ing the Tel­ugu char­ac­ter జ్ఞా in a text mes­sage would crash the phone.

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