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Home > Culture and Society

Only When I LOL

17 September 2005

This coming Monday sees the twenty-third anniversary of the : - ) Yes, it's been two and a bit decades since one Scott E Fahlman, a Pittsburgh computer scientist, had his Archimedes moment and realised that the most natural and common of human expressions could be rendered in otherwise grumpy everyday punctuation. On the 19th September 1982 Fahlman typed a colon, a dash and a bracket, explained 'read it sideways', and the smiley was born.

And how far we have come since that day. Today you can peruse a 93-page emoticon dictionary (http://snipurl.com/smileys), download a plethora of capering animated facey-things from a myriad of online resources, and conduct an entire conversation - indeed, an entire divorce complete with custody battle - without ever having to resort to actual words. The innocent little smiley and its descendants have, some linguists will eloquently scream, eaten a large swathe out of the language, Pacman-like - but really, who could begrudge it? It's so *cute*. And so handy, not just for the expression of happiness in online conversation, but for the polite concealment of homicidal nerd-rage. With such superbly effective and economical shorthand for actual emotions available to us, it's astonishing anyone bothers using tiresome words anymore. Hell, it's a wonder we even bother having emotions at all beyond Happy, Sad, Angry, Bored and Really Sad. Psychiatrists could do much if they utilised this seemingly restrictive, yet strangely liberating 'Five Dwarves' model. And linguists - well, they can take comfort in the fact that psychiatrists with exciting new theories and treatments will be there to help them when they lose their jobs.

We at TFT would like to express our wholehearted intent to embrace emoticon-only conversation - or rather, say : -) to it. In fact, the moment they come up with decent emoticons for the following emotions, we'll consider English dead enough for a salsa lesson to be held on its hastily-dug pauper's grave.


  • The barely-concealed pang of rampant jealousy, the gnawing guilt of divided loyalty, and the ghost of sexual arousal experienced as your best friend confesses he's porking your Brazilian lingerie model ex-girlfriend.

  • The bitter disillusionment necessarily masked with continuing (if moderated so as not to appear faked) pleasure experienced when, after years of penis envy, the coveted organ is finally at your disposal in all its three inches of joyously oblivious inadequacy.
  • The total exasperation, melded with childish rage and augmented with fear for the future and sorrow for the world, triggered by the sight or sound of George W. Bush.
  • George W. Bush's sense of absolute self-assurance and Christian righteousness married to an increasingly contrived-looking and hateful 'folksy charm', with a pinch of paranoid aggression in the face of any hint of dissent.
  • The ennui, combined with self-loathing, mingled with misplaced pride, of the UN delegates, as later today they realise once and for all just how utterly utterly pointless they really are.

: -)



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