by Jamison Koehler on September 18, 2013

Over on Facebook, Matt Kaiser laughs about having used an emoticon for the very first time in an email.  I laughed too when I saw this.  Although I used to share Matt’s apparent distaste for emoticons (they seemed so gimmicky and cute), it is only recently that I have begun to appreciate their value.  We are only so good at conveying the proper tone in an email.  Emoticons help to prevent all sorts of misunderstandings.

I have also gained a recent appreciation for the “like” button on Facebook.  Scott Greenfield wrote an insightful post this morning over at Simple Justice.  I felt the same way upon reading this post as I do whenever I read Henrik Hertzberg:  It is exactly what I would have said had I been so intelligent, so able to parse through the complexities of the arguments, and so able to put it all in such a nuanced way.  My immediate reaction was to post a comment, the net effect of which would have been to say “yes!”  It is what I thought without realizing it.

But I know Scott Greenfield.  I have been reading Simple Justice long enough to know that he abhors simple “me too” comments.  He would have cussed me out for assuming that anyone would care what I thought unless I had something substantive to add to the discussion. This is the beauty of the “like” button on Facebook.  A simple press of the button can signal your acknowledgement, your appreciation, without taking up any space with the blather.  We have this need to signal our approval or disapproval with something we see on the Internet.

My father abhorred exclamation points.  (He also hated adverbs and most adjectives too.)  His idea was that you should be able to write with such precision as to render the exclamation point – and by extension, the emoticon – completely unnecessary.   To do otherwise, he would argue, would be intellectually lazy.

But having seen enough misunderstandings and hurt feelings and flame wars, I think that this is a poor accommodation to the world we live in. With things happening so quickly on email and on the Internet, we may not always have the time to craft our communications just so.  In this case, I would rather cut a few corners than offend someone unnecessarily.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark W. Bennett September 18, 2013 at 9:33 am

I would rather cut a few corners than offend someone unnecessarily.

Not I.

Jamison Koehler September 18, 2013 at 9:36 am


This is one case in which you need the adverb. Because I have no problem offending someone necessarily.

Jeff Gamso September 18, 2013 at 9:48 am

I believe it was Oscar Wilde (though my belief could be wrong and I’m too lazy to look it up) who said that a gentleman is someone who never offends another by accident.

Jamison Koehler September 18, 2013 at 9:51 am

Where is the “like” button?

Mark W. Bennett September 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

There are no accidents. If I offend you without meaning to, you needed it.

It’s the people whom I have intentionally offended, but shouldn’t have, that I regret.

In any case, when I try to offend someone it usually goes right over his head—a problem that I suspect Oscar Wilde shared.

Jamison Koehler September 18, 2013 at 10:18 am

“In any case, when I try to offend someone it usually goes right over his head”

Unless, that is, you are dealing with a hypersensitive person who is always ready to take offense. But I suspect you already know that about me.

Jamison Koehler September 18, 2013 at 10:21 am

Although there are almost twice as many words in English as there are in German, there are two words for “sensitive” in German. “Sensibel” — if I remember the spelling correctly — implies someone who is in touch with his senses. “Sensitiv” has the more negative connotation: prickly and quick to take offense.

Just an interesting factoid.

Tyler September 19, 2013 at 7:27 pm


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