Smileys and Winkeys

  • Alka Gurha
  • India
  • Sep 28, 2012

People the world over are celebrating the thirtieth birthday of ‘Emoticons’ this month.  In the literary world ‘Emoticons’ are textual expressions representing the writer’s mood. Thirty years ago, on 19th September 1982, Professor Scott Fahlman, of Carnegie Mellon University, sent an email on an online electronic bulletin board. The email said: “I propose the following character sequence for joke markers: :-) Read  it sideways.

It is said that the aim was to distinguish between those attempting to write humorous mails and those who weren’t. Surprisingly, within months, the sideways smiley had gone viral! 

Many argue that the use of emoticons in the literary world goes back to the eighteenth century. Regardless, we have come a long way since the use of first smiley face. Apart from smiling, emoticons today are singing, dancing and blowing kisses. Some wear sunglasses and hats, some shed tears, and some are plain naughty - ready to convey impish messages.

While youngsters love emoticons, the purists are deeply offended. An English teacher laments, “I mourn the death of subtlety in language. I can appreciate novelty when it broadens expressive reach, but emoticons are just another lazy device that’s neutering
modern language.” 

Worthless symbols, unnecessary additions, or juvenile expressions - irrespective of what one feels about them, emoticons have become a part of modern day language.

It is baffling when people who take pride in their gravitas send smiling and winking faces. Their ROFLs, LAMAOs and LOLs are equally inexplicable! What is understandable is that it is much easier to punch ROFL, than to actually Roll On The Floor and laugh until your ass hurts. Right? 

The present century is all about imagination. Verbosity is out, brevity is in. More so for the testy teens who prefer to text and chat via bits and bytes. Tyranny of words is not for them. Since friendships today are blooming in the virtual world via electronic devices, it is important to convey exact emotions along with the words. This is where emoticons come in handy. I see young people using emoticons to convey the most complex and complicated thoughts. 

Over time emoticons have migrated from teen jargon to official parlance. Several professionals have happily embraced smiley faces. 

If you happen to be a mother, you can comprehend symbols with the flourish of a master linguist. Over the years, I have learnt to unravel the deeper meaning of the emoticons texted by my son. A smiley after his exams tells me that he has “nailed it.” A winking face conveys “I didn’t study, but don’t be upset.”  And a grimacing face says, “Tough paper, I should have studied instead of watching that stupid movie.” That said, I am hugely indebted to ‘Google Baba’ for explaining what some of the convoluted textual expressions really mean


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