Thursday, December 9, 2010

punctuation

It never occurred to me that emoticons are punctuation until reading Eats, Shoots, and Leaves, but the thought has been stuck in my head since then. I'm pretty well convinced that ":)" needs to be recognized as legitimate punctuation, indicating tone in a way similar to "!" or "...". It fills a much-needed role, don't you think?

"!" is too extremely excited to be used to indicate that something is said non-seriously or friendlily. "..." can occasionally indicate that something shouldn't be taken literally, but more in a drily sarcastic way:

"That's a great idea!" <- excitedly enthusiastic
"That's a great idea..." <- hesitation, perhaps even sarcasm
"That's a great idea :)" <- simply, friendlily affirmative

I would also advocate for allowing ";)" to explicitly denote sarcasm, inside jokes, etc. Wink-wink-nudge-nudge. And ":p" to indicate playfulness or nonserious poking fun. But one step at a time.

The barrier, I think, is that while these are already in very widespread usage, they're limited to direct communication from one person to another. Can you picture the following passage in a book?
Margaret knocked on Bruce's door and was surprised to be greeted by his roommate Ed instead.

"Hi Ed :) Hey, is Bruce here by any chance?"

"Why... hello Margaret ;) You have something personal to need to discuss with him? He stepped out but I'll be sure to give him your urgent message :p"
Looks weird, but compare that to the alternative:
Margaret knocked on Bruce's door and was surprised to be greeted by his roommate Ed instead.

"Hi Ed. Hey, is Bruce here by any chance?" she said, trying to sound casually friendly, but anxious to see Bruce.

"Why... hello Margaret!" Ed responded slyly. "You have something personal you need to discuss with him? He stepped out but I'll be sure to give him your urgent message," he said, winking. He wasn't about to let Margaret off the hook without some friendly hassling.
Barring my inexistent narrative writing skills, I think the former is clearly preferable.

I dare you to start including smiley faces in your research papers. We economists are already enamored with cutesy not-really-funny paper titles, so it's not much of a leap :)

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