So I’m reading this story about the origin of the smiley – you know, 🙂 – which was first suggested as a way to compensate for the fact that you don’t get cues like tone of voice and facial expressions in written communications like email, and I see that even a quarter century later, that can still be a wide gulf to bridge.
Amy Weinberg, a University of Maryland linguist and computer scientist, said emoticons such as the smiley were “definitely creeping into the way, both in business and academia, people communicate.”
“In terms of things that language processing does, you have to take them into account,” she said. “If you’re doing almost anything … and you have a sentence that says ‘I love my boss’ and then there’s a smiley face, you better not take that seriously.”
Um, well, actually, you ought to judge it from the context rather than jump to a conclusion. As Sigmund Freud once said, sometimes a smiley is just a smile. Now if you’d punctuated that sentence with :-P, then the meaning would be more clear. But as with so many other things, the meaning of the smiley has adapted and gained nuance over time, and sometimes it just means “I’m happy”. 🙂 See?