For many, many years I refused to use emoticons. I was a hard case, an old man, a prideful English major with a chip on my shoulder the size of a continental shelf.
Even after email and texting had become by far the primary communication vectors in my day-to-day life, I insisted on proper grammar and capitalization in all electronic dispatches. There would be no effing sideways smiley faces in my correspondence.
Alas, I have recently and reluctantly abandoned my steely resolve. I feel defeated, to a degree, but also strangely liberated. It’s sort of like being a Detroit Lions fan. Once you learn to accept the relentless losses, you realize that the universe is simply aligned against you and your chosen cause.
It was the king of emoticons — the smiley face — that finally broke my will. Because the terrible truth is that, in the realm of email and texting, the smiley face is frequently useful and sometimes straight-up necessary.
Tone is famously difficult to impart in email. Like a lot of people, I suspect, I got into plenty of trouble in the early days by trying to deliver deadpan jokes electronically. In fact, I almost got fired once when irony wasn’t successfully transmitted in an email (which would have been ironic). Text is an unreliable platform for communicating sarcasm or irony, I’d always thought. You can’t wink. You can’t smile.
Except, with the advent of emoticons, you suddenly could — and, in fact, everybody was. But that stupid smiley face was too broad, and I wasn’t about to learn some arcane code of lateral semicolons to approximate sideways winking or whatever.
The unrelenting cascade of incoming emoticons finally broke my will, and I started occasionally, warily putting smiley faces at the end of select messages. The final nail in the coffin came earlier this week when Oxford Dictionaries — long the unofficial arbiter of proper English usage — chose an emoji as its 2015 Word of the Year. This one:
That’s right — not the word “emoji.” But an emoji.