Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why the Emoticon Is a Stain on Civilisation ;-)

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

Why the Emoticon Is a Stain on Civilisation ;-)

Article excerpt

The exclamation mark, known fondly among tabloid sub-editors as a dog's dick, is in frisky form. Originally used sparingly and reserved purely for exclamations such as "Surprise!", it has taken on a new role with the advent of texts and emails in conveying emotion.

Dubbed "ur emoticons" by Will Schwalbe - co-author with David Shipley of Send: why people email so badly and how to do it better - swarms of these "whooping exclamation points", as Mark Twain described them, scream out from the world of electronic missives louder than a gaggle of One Direction fans.

Hands up, guilty as charged. After years of fastidiously pruning exclamation marks from acres of text, I am finding myself using them more and more. Because what's worse is the alternative: the portmanteau emoticon, a monster assembled out of random punctuation marks, one of which most people don't even know how to use properly. Yes, I'm talking about the semicolon, that wonderful weapon of soft power in a sentence; it's a mark that's stronger than a comma but gentler than a full point.

You may disagree and share writer Kurt Vonnegut's view of semicolons as "transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you've been to college." But do they deserve this modern fate of being forced into a loveless marriage with a parenthesis, winking at you cheekily from the end of a lame joke?

However terrifying this vision is, there is an even worse textual gargoyle: the smiley face, or emoji. This cheery yellow horror grins out from the page shouting "THIS IS MEANT TO BE FUNNY". …

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