As I clicked the “install” button on the app on my iPhone, I bowed my head in quiet mini-defeat. My years of resistance, my stubborn stance had just buckled at the knees and crumbled. I was now a willful user, but vowed to never become an abuser. But with rows of shiny, new options, each more creative than the last, I knew the line was thin.
I’m talking Emojis. The smiley (and crying and side-eyeing and winking and sun-glass-wearing, etc.) faces and other countless ideograms you can throw into an otherwise mundane text message or web comment and totally revolutionize the thing.
It’s not that I was anti-emoticons. I’m no ogre. I just didn’t feel that they were really necessary, not if you’re using your words to communicate a point or idea. If I wanted to convey that I was joking, “Ha” or some other parenthetical did just fine. If I wanted to send love or tell someone I was clicking my heels in joy for them, then I said exactly that.
Basically my emails and texts were longer than they needed to be. I didn’t fully appreciate emoticons as this smart and able shorthand. Creative, fun, clever, colorful shorthand. I mean, have you seen all the different hearts or the sushi or the palm trees and sunset? Listen, if I could, I would have already dropped three different emojis in this piece by now, and you would have been dazzled.
If I’m being honest, I thought I was too old to be messing around with tiny emoting faces. I felt emoticons were exclusively for the young’uns, devices for tweens and teens to express themselves. Like stickers or mood rings or -- my other complicated frenemy -- exclamation points.
My beef with exclamation points dates back to my early writing days. I don’t remember the first time I heard it, but the “Exclamation Points Have No Place in Literature” song has played in my head for almost two decades. I’ve read essay after essay wagging their collective red pen at writers who used the punctuation mark anywhere, ever, including the famous “How to Tell a Story” by Mark Twain, where he derided other writers’ use of exclamation points as basically laughing at the own jokes, and ultimately the sad signs of an amateur who should consider finding another profession.
Wherever I first picked it up, I carried this exclamation point lockout idea with me as I wrote my stories and later my emails. I would only bust one out when really warranted, like at the end of a hearty “Congratulations!”
This rationing did me well for a while until I started working at a publication that we’ll call Glossy Paper, with a deputy editor who we’ll call Chiclets, because of her jumbo veneers. (Yes, I sometimes hold tiny grudges. *Insert raised eye-brow emoji here*).
Chiclets was highly skilled at email shenanigans and new school subterfuge. She was as pleasant as pie to your face, often smiling (because, veneers…) as she left you, only to head back to her computer and float some passive-aggressive nonsense into your in-box, like it was normal and necessary. It took me a minute to unravel her tricks, but I did notice early on that no matter how many low-blows, petty digs and backhanded compliments she threw at you, Chiclets would always sign off with this: "Thanks!!!"
See that? Not one, but three exclamation points. Just rude. I could hear her drawn-out-vowels and nasally voice scratching deep holes in my eardrums whenever I read that. Thaaaaaaankks!!! But the true battery acid rubbed in the wound was when she later added a damn smiley face :-) to her signature line. So it was a sideways smiley face, three exclamation points and bright blue font. Was she trying to kill me?
In any case, Chiclets has the distinct honor of driving the final nail into the coffin that held my tenuous relationship with exclamation points and emoticons. Dead to me, I wanted nothing to do with them. That is until the rise and thriving shine of social media.
People, grown ones, were using emoticons and exclamation points with abandon. And it was not like what Mark Twain said at all: folks, even writers, did not look like amateurs tacking an exclamation point or three in a tweet or blog post. Smiley faces and clapping-hands and blue hearts didn’t look awful sitting there under an Instagram shot.
Actually, it looked sweet and funny and, in several cases, kind of genius.
The once-retched smiley face quickly found its way out of the mausoleum and on to my own tweets, my Facebook statuses, my blog. And Smiley dragged his homey Stick-and-Dot out of the darkness too. Before I realized it, those two vampires were getting comfortable, nestling into many of my electronic missives -- and they were serving a purpose, too.
I had seen how easily tone and intent could fall off the sides of emails and short texts and 140-character notes. I gathered a fine understanding for how a well-placed winking face might make the difference between an instant delete and your message living to see a specialty mailbox subfolder. More, as a mom, I witnessed how the exclamation point alone could transform a simple three-word note stuck to the lid of a lunchbox into the best thing you’ll write all day. "Mommy loves you!"
I’m still sitting on my judging fence when it comes to exclamation points in literature, though. I don’t like Mark Twain mocking me, all right? But I’ve definitely loosened the hard line I once held on “acceptable” punctuation in emails and texts and Internet-y chatter.
There’s a simplicity to it, to letting someone know exactly how you feel with two keystrokes, that is reassuring in these distant-but-connected times. I suppose I owe Chiclets some kind of hat tip for starting me on this circle of acceptance journey. So, Chicseey, this one goes out to you: THAAAAAANKSSSS!!!!!! :-D