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Let's all eradicate the emoticon

Sticking a smiley into a work e-mail almost always comes across as awkward, forced or unprofessional.
Sticking a smiley into a work e-mail almost always comes across as awkward, forced or unprofessional.
  • Our challenge to you: Spend the rest of this month emoticon-free
  • Delivering hurtful news online is hard, but sticking an emoticon at end of message doesn't help
  • :P is the most hated emoticon in our survey of 500 people

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they're not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as a news editor at, and Bartz holds the same position at Psychology Today.

(CNN) -- Back in the way olden days, folks used to scrawl pictures on cave walls to convey meaning. Needless to say, we've evolved since then -- what with the planting and harvesting, the creation of the wheel, the no longer living in caves.

And yet we still insist on employing crude pictures to convey emotion.

The emoticon: According to some, it was created in 1982 by Scott E. Fahlman, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University. (Some also claim that earlier people -- such as, bizarrely, Abraham Lincoln -- also employed the smiley, but Fahlman seems to have truly sparked the trend.)

Fahlman came up with the idea because folks using the Computer Science community online bulletin boards failed to recognize humor (shocker) and were taking certain posts too seriously. So a smile signaled a joke, while a frown pointed to a more serious post.

Fine. Cool. We get it. People are generally socially inept online and smileys are a way to stave off any confusion, but we have to say -- emoticons have reached STD-like proportions since their inception, spreading from one person to another like particularly expressive herpes. When someone tries to fashion an emoticon to denote sarcasm, you know you're in trouble.

We took a poll of about 500 friends and fans to discover which emoticons really got them glowering (in real life, not emoticon-effigy). The most-hated emoticons, in descending order (at time of writing):

:P (46%)

>:( (39%)

:) (8%)

:/ (6%)

:( (2%)

That's why we're putting forth the following challenge to you, dear readers, as the year drags its sorry carcass toward the grave: Spend the rest of this month emoticon-free. We're doing it, too, so you don't have to go into the abyss alone -- at least not this time.

The parenthetical purge begins now. If you feel like an emotional cripple come 2011, then, fine, smile, wink, scowl and "meh" away. But, in the meantime, here are three situations that you can instantly slap the smile outta:

In work e-mails

Hi Tim,

Thanks for being such a team player this week after Dale accidentally shredded all those vital internal documents and had a total meltdown in the break room. The way you restrained him until security arrived -- well, let's just say that if we ever kick off that office wrestling league I was talking about, I want you on MY team. Speaking of teams, we're going to need to you to take on Dale's workload from now on. We can't afford to pay you more, but we will make sure you're constantly flush with toner. Thanks, Tim J

- Betsy

What is wrong with this e-mail? If you guessed, "There's a random 'J' floating around up in there after Tim's name," you win the prize (our grudging respect)! What could that J be? A typo? The first letter of Tim's last name? Some form of code or shorthand?

No. It's a smiley face. That's right -- when you add an emoticon to your e-mail while using Outlook, that smiley is then converted into a "J" on all other e-mail servers, which makes you look stupid.

Speaking of stupid, sticking a smiley into a work e-mail almost always comes across as awkward, forced or unprofessional. A little workplace humor is good for creativity and solidarity, research shows, but :)s in e-mails are about as humorless as the LOLs you type with almost creepy stoicism.

And if you deal internationally, you risk being misunderstood: Emoticons vary worldwide, with Eastern smileys favoring the eyes instead of the mouth.

So, when dealing with co-workers, save the unprofessional behavior of the office Christmas party (mmm, eggnog and shame).

To hide the fact that you're being a jerk

"Hey Molly ... so, I know it's your birthday and all, but Sam asked me out and I really think I should go, 'cause, you know, he's always so busy and he's canceled on me like six times already and I just really want to hook up with someone right now. That's OK, right? :P"

Wow. Way to cut deep, friendo. Not only have you completely messed your friend over, you also have handily given her a face to punch (in the imaginary sense) -- with a lolling tongue, no less. Yes, we know that it can be hard to deliver hurtful news, but sticking an emoticon at the end of said news doesn't somehow negate the fact that you're being a tool.

The simple solution is to not be a jerk. But hey, if you're going to screw over a pal, know that a new study notes that we judge future moral lapses more harshly than past ones.

In other words, it's harder to passive-aggressively ask for permission today than to just beg for forgiveness tomorrow morning, when Molly is waking up next to her bed still swaddled in her winter coat with a birthday candle stuck to her cheek. That turn of events might just warrant a legit ":P" after all. ...

To flirt

"So what do you say to dinner and a movie tonight? ;)

- Karl"

Consider this: Would you wink at someone in real life? Didn't think so.


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