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Emoticons creep closer to being officially considered writing

July 13, 2001 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Emoticons creep closer to being officially considered writing
You have to scroll down a ways ... I don't mean to sound elitist. I believe language is a living thing, and can grow and change and grow up to be a ballerina, if it wants to, even if that seems like an innocent child's dream right now, and is not to be taken seriously really. Seriously though, don't you have a kind of sick feeling that a version of the OED is giving recognition to the idea that punctuation and numerals are making entry into language?
posted by rschram (15 comments total)

 
There is no emoticon to express what I am feeling right now.
posted by benjh at 5:32 PM on July 13, 2001


Seems perfectly viable to me. If it can be used to communicate something, and most people understand what it means, I'd consider it a word. But it is kind of an oddballish idea to include something in the dictionary that you can't express with your mouth.
posted by Laugh_track at 5:51 PM on July 13, 2001


Cave Drawings to ASCII. Full circle. :-)
posted by john at 5:55 PM on July 13, 2001


Emoticons and IM/cellphone shorthand clearly are forms of communication, I don't think you can really argue with that. And not only that, they're forms of written communication. . .

Really what this boils down to is a nasty semantic argument over what exactly constitutes "language." BTW, there's also the issue of whether or not emoticons represent a subset of symbolic communications within English, or independent of it.

Personally I doubt emoticons allow for a sufficient range of expressions to be considered written language, and even if they do, I won't buy arguments that they're a subset of English. Norwegian "smilies" look just the same and means just the same thing as English ones, German ones, Japanese ones, etc.

As for the shorthand notation & acronyms, well, IMHO, it's really no different from slang or any other type of jargon used by a given community. It just so happens that the commincators in question represent a somewhat non-traditional definition of "community."

TTYL!
posted by drywall at 5:57 PM on July 13, 2001


Personally I doubt emoticons allow for a sufficient range of expressions to be considered written
language, and even if they do, I won't buy arguments that they're a subset of English. Norwegian
"smilies" look just the same and means just the same thing as English ones, German ones,
Japanese ones, etc.


A well-taken point. I think my sick feeling stems from the "recognition" of something, not the fact that communication can take different forms. Recognition of what, however, I haven't put my finger on...

I think that emoticons are clearly independent of particular languages, but in holding this, one comes to the question of what they signify in the first place.

Smileys are actually precocious little buggers, if you think about it. They're iconic of facial expressions, OK. They sort of play a metacommunication role, as if to "set the tone" of the text preceding it. Consider

> You're really ignorant of post-Cold War geopolitics :)

To me, that means that the author wants me to take the statement as sarcasm or parody, I guess. It's not a simple "I am happy."
posted by rschram at 6:11 PM on July 13, 2001


"Norwegian
"smilies" look just the same and means just the same thing as English ones, German ones,
Japanese ones, etc."


wanna bet?

eastern = :)

western = ^_^

but it's all good. i'm to busy trying to explain to average AOLer that they should start using spellcheck.

it's an uphill battle.
posted by jcterminal at 6:32 PM on July 13, 2001


Good dictionaries include more than word definitions; there's typically phonemic, grammatical and stylistic guides, abbreviations, lists in the back (of colleges, geographical or biographical blurbs, etc.). If emoticons find a place in a list apart from the definitions, no-one will make a fuss.

The idea of editors trying to standardize emoticons is ridiculous, if inevitable.

>Consider

>> You're really ignorant of post-Cold War geopolitics :)

>To me, that means that the author wants me to take the statement as sarcasm or parody, I guess. It's not a simple "I am happy."

True, but an exclamation point does not have a simple or universal meaning either: is it spoken loudly? With humorous intent? etc.

In fact, there are lots of ad hoc, randomized analphabetic constructions that are generally understood in written text which function like emoticons:

$&*! (expletive)
!??!! (this is almost always nonverbal, i.e. non-dialog)
...! (we assume the exclamation point is not part of the elided text, but this is unclear)
and such things as the sarcastic use of a trademark sign.

the point is, these aren't included in a dictionary because they're out on the fringe of grammar. emoticons are perhaps even further out, BUT they are included in a dictionary because of the speed with which they are invading language, making a note on their use in a dictionary helpful, but at the same time giving them a dubious boost of respectability.
posted by mitchel at 6:35 PM on July 13, 2001


#$&(^#$!, downsized again.
posted by clavdivs at 6:39 PM on July 13, 2001


will "3ll33t" be in there?
posted by greyscale at 8:01 PM on July 13, 2001


but at the same time giving them a dubious boost of respectability.

I agree with you, mitchel, but I'd argue that the problem comes not from the dictionary-maker's desire to include them, but from our cultural insistence on making dictionaries authoritatively prescriptive. It's one thing to say that we have (more or less) standard spelling and usage, and we consult a set of dictionaries to regularize this and avoid confusion; but it's another to grant dictionaries the power of making language legitimate. So what if some editor attaches an appendix? Treat it as a description, argue over whether it's accurate, etc. But a dictionary doesn't make a word's use real -- the community does.

Of course this article seems sort of unreliable anyway. "Chowhound" has been around since the 40s, according to my old (American) Web 9. Maybe it's brand new in Britain. Anybody know? Anybody got the new Concise Oxford? (There's nothing I see on the OUP site that mentions emoticons or chowhounds.)
posted by BT at 9:01 PM on July 13, 2001


Don't they count as punctuation? As rschram noted, they modify the tone of the preceding text, just like the exclamation point. They also have meaning alone, also just like a question mark or exclamation point. Consider:

>>Bill,
>>We got the contract!
>>--Joe

>Joe,
>!!
>--Bill

or with emoticons:

>>We got the contract :)
>:)

Looks like punctuation to me, though perhaps a slightly more stylized implementation.

Over the past 50 years we have lost a lot of the descriptive ability of language. Well, it's still there, but largely unused. Passed over for more efficient communication. Emoticons are a way to reclaim part of that.
posted by Nothing at 10:37 PM on July 13, 2001


sms shorthands are not very timeless. when i was like 13 friends signed hand deliverd letters with like 10 acronyms like 'lylas' and 'lylab' (love you like a *insert sibling*), 'kit', 'kmfdm'.... no not kmfdm, but you know what i mean. will technology catch up to laziness of the fingers as soon as one might think? maybe not... oh well.
posted by elle at 12:58 AM on July 14, 2001


I think I can see why the editors included them in the Concise Oxford Dictionary.

• Emoticons are used by many people who speak English.

• They are constructed from the same characters used to construct English expressions.

• The are used within otherwise normal English sentences.

• They express information fairly predictably.

But an emoticon is a non-verbal pictograph, not an English word (or, say, a French or Russian word), and it does not sound like anything.

If emoticons belong in the dictionary, they belong, as mitchel notes above, in the appendices with the abbreviations and so on. And when people stop using them, that particularly inflamed appendix should be removed.

.---- ----- -....- ....-
posted by pracowity at 5:02 AM on July 14, 2001


The Concise Oxford Dictionary is not the same thing, at all, as the Oxford English Dictionary. It is not an edited-down version, a modified version, a subset, an extract, etc., but a completely different dictionary. Directly from the keyboard of the North American editor, twice:

"Again, and not to harp on this, but it's The Concise Oxford Dictionary, not the 'Concise OED' or anything like that."
posted by Mo Nickels at 7:55 AM on July 14, 2001


The world is moving faster than ever...
A hundred years a go, people weren't in such a hurry. A letter might took months to get to it's destination. People had all the time in the world to compose. It was a time where you were supposed to write at least 10 pages to explain a feeling.
What if basic emotional reactions were part of the alphabet itself? We could have special letters for feelings...
posted by Mihai at 11:47 AM on July 14, 2001


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