My dislike for smiley icons surpasses even my distrust of real-life smiles. Smileys (smilies?) are evil things at most times but what annoys me most is when people use them as a cop-out, to soften the tone of sentences that they fear might otherwise be taken in the wrong spirit. This is so cloying, and so cowardly. It’s like the silly little icon is sniveling on the sender’s behalf: “Look, I might be saying something vaguely sarcastic or provocative here, but I’m really all harmless and Teddy Bear-ish underneath, so please, please don’t take offence! Just love me, okay?”
[For an example of such usage, see the last sentence of this post]
It’s equally bad when a smiley is used as shorthand for dummies – to clarify that a certain remark is, indeed, meant to be funny. This is the equivalent of inserting a laughter track at the end of your own joke just to make things easy for The Undeserving Humourless.
Not that I don’t understand the need for this usage: I’ve complained often enough on this blog that people don’t seem to understand comedy that doesn’t announce itself loudly, that doesn’t come with a large signboard saying “Kindly laugh here.” My repeated exhortations that nothing I say or write is to be taken seriously (except when I proclaim that cats are our last remaining links to the Divine; that’s honest) fall on deaf ears. I write a jokey post about strange and wondrous births in the Mahabharata and the good people at DesiPundit classify it under “Society and Culture” instead of “Humour”. And later someone leaves a comment saying “To take mythology literally to poke fun at Hinduism is a bit sick, don't you think?”
[This means one of two things: 1) I’m so brilliant and subtle that no one currently alive can understand me and my genius will only be recognised 5000 years into the future, when I’m long past caring, or 2) I’m just not as funny as I like to think. Perhaps both.]
But back to the last point about smileys. Despite being grievously misunderstood in these matters, I refuse to use the smiley as a laugh-track. It’s beneath my dignity. Except in very, very rare cases. So a quick note for anyone I’ve ever sent a smiley to, whether on email, SMS or Comments: don’t preen. All it means is that I knew there was just no way you would have got the tone of the sentence otherwise. In short, you’re a pea-brained cretin :-)