We live in dark times. And nothing makes me more convinced of this than the escalating use and growing acceptance of smiley faces in correspondence.

My new boss, who I’ve decided to dislike even though I’ve never met or spoken to her, and who is probably a really nice person who I will never give a chance, can’t seem to send an email without several emoticons beaming out from between her sentences and gluttonous number of exclamation points. U R 2 NICE!!! 🙂 she wrote in her first email to me, making me wonder how I could “B 2 NICE” when I was in fact 2 shocked 4 words.

Sure, I will pardon the stray or well-used emoticon. I will pardon emoticons that are produced by the very young or very old. I will even pardon emoticons in forum responses and short virtual notes. But emoticons are a slippery slope of weird facial expressions, and, like most indulgences in life, they should be used sparingly and thoughtfully.

One day you might find yourself adding a single smiley face to the end of an email in order to cement your tone. But the next day you might, like my new boss, be wholly unable to go three lines in an email without breaking out the super smiley or the winky-smiley, all garnished with splashes of exclamation points and ellipses. It will be mere days before you find yourself replacing words with numbers – like some1 and 2day – and mere days after that before you are a homeless heroin fiend, the kind of person who coughs without covering their mouth or doesn’t put the cap back on the toothpaste.

Is it really that hard to express yourself clearly with actual words? Must we rely on weird yellow hieroglyphs, which are totally so 5,000 years ago? There are lots of words in this language and — surprised emoticon! — many of them express emotion. In fact, words can even be strung together in certain sequences that imply very specific tones and shades of meaning. For example, do I need to put a 😡 here for your to understand how I feel on the subject? Or do you get it?  

To prove my point further, let’s take a look at how a classic author has survived without using emoticons. Would timeless words from the past be even more powerful and moving with emoticons?

Let’s try the opening of A Tale of Two Cities:

“It was the best of times 😀 it was the worst of times 😦 it was the age of wisdom 💡 it was the age of foolishness 😛 it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity 😕 it was the season of Light 😎 it was the season of Darkness 😥 it was the spring of hope 😆 it was the winter of despair 😦 we had everything before us 😀 we had nothing before us  we were all going direct to Heaven 😮 we were all going direct the other way 👿 “

(Hm. I have to admit even I’m a little surprised that there’s an emoticon for “incredulous.”)

 Yes, you could argue that emoticons clarify tone, which is sometimes hard to convey over short business emails. But I still think that the vast majority of the time it’s a crutch that is for the most part repetitive. More than that, though, I think that they are often not used sincerely. Who knows, though, maybe my defense against my new boss should be to honestly use emoticons in my emails. They would look something like this:

 Attached is the spreadsheet you requested. 😐


No, U R 2 NICE!!! 🙄