April 13, 2015

The Ironic Mark

  , an emoticon.

The above emoticon face is set in Garamond typeface,
but the face of the text below is set in Georgia typeface.

[Posted on L&P on Aug 27, 2010.]
        The last 3 or 4 posts here have got me thinking about emoticons, again. Look at those last few posts, and then look at this post.  Look how disfiguring and distracting the emoticons are.  They scream out, “Look at me!  Look at me!  Don’t look at anything else”.  In my
GARR blog post, in rule 9, I say, “Try to resist using emoticons.  Or at least try to use them sparingly, and only on the rarest occasions”.  Well, a while back, Olle Hjort took me to task for abusing this rule, and lately I noticed that I have been abusing it again.  Here is our dialogue from back then, with a very helpful addition from John Chapman.  But first, I have to make a distinction between a typographic emoticon, and a pictographic emoticon.  The former is a series of punctuation marks as they would appear in Plain Text without any hypertext protocol formatting, and the latter is a series of punctuation marks that through hypertext protocol creates a little gif picture in HTML texts.

       Olle Hjort:  “Over on FPN you said, “Perhaps these rules are a bit too rigorous and demanding, but it would be a small victory if people would follow at least some of the rules.  For instance, I noticed that you signed your full surname, although parenthetically. ;~)”  I have been thinking about this as I noticed that you have started to use lots of emoticons in your latest posts.  Isn’t rule 9 above one of the easiest to follow?  [Then he used two emoticons, :unsure:, and :rolleyes:.]

        Me:  “[Answering maybe a little too flippantly.]  No, apparently.  ;~)
        “I think emoticons are disfiguring and distracting, so I usually studiously avoid using them altogether, except in my signature.  But that’s not really an emoticon.  It’s just a finial, or dingbat after my signature, or a way of making my signature distinctive.  It doesn’t really express any emotion.  It means that I am a ninja researcher.  It’s similar to the way you always sign your name, “/Olle”, and the way Daniel Kirchheimer always signs his “—Daniel”, and the way Claes Lindblad always signs his “Claes in Lund, Sweden”.  To avoid pictographic emoticons, I created my own punctuation mark, what I called my ironic mark, which consisted of an italic semicolon, tilde, and closed parenthesis, like so, ;~).  The semicolon looks a little like an ironic, winking eye, and the tilde and parenthesis look a little like a wry, ironic, wrinkled-up nose and crooked smile.  It doesn’t translate into any known disfiguring emoticon, and I use it only when I want to add emphasis to my post, and I sometimes use it in red text to add color, or contrast, as above.  It can also mean that I am not being totally serious in what I say, or that I may mean the opposite of what I am saying.  I almost never use other standard emoticons, with one exception.  I included an emoticon in my patent book, a discrete, strategically-placed smiley face.”
        Olle:  “Exactly what I am talking about!  Don’t you describe an emoticon there?  I must apologize for not noticing that you have invented your own punctuation mark.  I was convinced that it was impossible to find an unused combination.  I know you like trademarks :-), so here’re some tips for you. 
Tip 1, and Tip 2.”
        Me:  “No, it’s a punctuation mark.  You said so yourself here, “I must apologize for not noticing that you have invented your own punctuation mark”.  And thanks for the tips, but mine is not copyrighted, or trademarked.  It’s in the public domain, and anyone can use it.  It’s my gift to the pen community.  ;~)
        “And you still haven’t said which messages of mine you noticed with all those emoticons.”

        Olle:  “It’s always educating to discuss with you, George.
        “First, if we take the smiley that Forrest Gump invented, I make no difference between a semicolon together with a right parenthesis and a smiley face.  It can be called a combination of characters, or punctuations, or smileys, or emoticons, for me they are the same, and they add something to the text.  For me it makes no difference if the meaning of the combined characters is to add emphasis to the text, or say that you are not being totally serious, or mean the opposite, or express an emotion.  They are still punctuations, or smileys, or emoticons that add something to the text.  But I might be totally wrong and the only one who does not make this difference.
        “In your series about trademarks, #1-43, you used ;~) in black 10 times in #1-32. 
        Then you used it in red 2 times in #33-34, and finally 6 times in #40-43. 
        That’s the totally irrelevant statistic that triggered my posting. 
        A “totally irrelevant statistic” since you don’t define ;~) as an emoticon. 
        And it’s OK to use it as long as it does not express any emotions.  /Olle
        P.S.  I absolutely agree about emoticons being disfiguring and distracting :DS: .”
        Me:  “Well, that was really impressive, Olle.  That’s the first time anyone has reviewed the whole trademarks series, distilled to a few sentences, all from the aspect of punctuation marks, and graphic elements, and emoticons, or lack thereof.  Thank you for that eye-opener.  I enjoyed that irreverent quantification of the series.  This is a perfect place for a “typographic emoticon”, or a “pictographic emoticon”, or what shall we call it?  I’m glad someone noticed my increasing use of the “ironic mark”, or “combination of characters used as a punctuation mark”.  I will concede one thing.  I was relying upon it a little too much in that series, and have been using it elsewhere as well a lot, lately.  I can see now what triggered your comment.  I’ll try to restrain myself, now that someone has noticed that it has become a bit too ubiquitous.
        “You are also right.  I have been relying upon it as an “emoticon-substitute”, and in that sense it is also an emoticon of sorts.  It does add something more to the text than just mere punctuation.  It does add emphasis to the text.  You’re also right that it is one of the last combinations of characters and punctuation marks, a typographic emoticon, that does not get automatically converted into a disfiguring pictographic emoticon, or smiley by most computer programs and browsers, and for that I am grateful.
        “That someone would actually sit down and count all the graphical aberrations disfiguring my texts, now, that’s a perfect place for an ironic mark, or emoticon-substitute, or combination of characters used as an emphasis mark.  Do you see how many words I had to use in order to circumvent using that mark?  It’s a substitute for using a lot of words.  Those marks, or digital signifiers are “word substitutes”, or “pictographs”, or “indefinite digital articles”.  ;~)
        John Chapman:  “Don’t you guys know the history of emoticons?  They started out as simple punctuation marks to denote humor, irony, distaste, etc. in text-only online conversations,  : ) ,  :-) ,  : ( ,  ;-) , etc.  Only with more advanced HTML did we start to see the little gif images.  George’s ironic symbol is most certainly an emoticon, even if not of the animated-pictographic, dancing-bunny sort.  If the Wiki
article is to be believed, emoticons go back to the late 1800s.
        Me:  “Thanks for that Wikipedia link, John.  Fascinating history.  There’s a link inside that article with a
list of all emoticons, circa 2010.  It’s curious that in the whole list, the tilde sign is used only once in the Western emoticons, and then only beneath the parenthetic lips to denote drooling on the chin.  Nowhere is it used as the nose in a smiley face, ironic or otherwise.  In the Eastern emoticons a tilde is used in a sideways marker to denote “winking” eyes, and “crying” eyes, and in the Japanese emoticons a double-tilde is used as part of a digital marker to denote smoking, ~~.” 

         Ironic comments are the same as dramatic, or Platonic dialogue.  Maybe even docudramas 
and documentaries are suspect.  They fluff and puff up the language with unnecessarily airy padding, and filling, and stuffing.  Ironic remarks are often snide remarks, and are rarely helpful, and are obvious enough without the emoticon.  I could have distilled most of this to just a few, short paragraphs, without the irony.
        Henceforth, I will make ironic comments dead pan,
silently, without flagging them.  Needless to say, I will not use the ironic mark here again.  From now on, I will reserve it for the free-for-all of the pen message boards.  But it’s okay.  I can always use the exclamation point.
        It just occurred to me that maybe I should have called it “the sarcastic mark” because, even though there is an element of irony in all sarcastic humour, plain irony is usually less obvious and less funny.  Ha, at last.  Irony ironized.  (Well, maybe I’ll use it just this one last time.)  ;~)

George Kovalenko.