Why I Never Use Emoticons


Alternate definitions:

1. An emoticon, sometimes called a smiley, is a sequence of printable characters such as 🙂 or ^_^, that is intended to represent a human facial expression and convey an emotion. Use in internet forums and instant-messaging. – Urban Dictionary definition #1 (but I really like #6 too) … oh, and don’t click on that link if you are easily offended. Urban Dictionary is not known to be SAFE for work.

2. Something my mom includes in 99.9% of all text messages and emails.

3. Something I never ever use.

While I’d love to talk more about definition #2 (hi mom!), the focus of this post is explaining why I never use emoticons.

Before we jump in, let me first discuss how I do communicate.

94.2% of all communications from me (text, IM, email, voicemail, social media posts, in-person talks, webinars, blog posts, and so on) include one or many of the below:

  • Humor
  • Human-speak
  • Sarcasm
  • #Hashtags
  • Questions
  • Answers
  • The word “Ha.”
  • PASSION … in various forms

Notice that “emoticons” was not on that list.

I can probably count the number of times I’ve used an emoticon on one hand (I have all my digits, so that means 5 or less).

Why I (Almost) Never Use Emoticons

Other than face to face, nearly all forms of communication are one-sided.

Think about it. I email you; you email back. One-sided. I IM you; you IM back. One-sided. I text you; you text back. One-sided. You get the point. And let me be clear, I’m not suggesting email, IM, texting (and more!) cannot be conversational; however facial expressions, body tone, and other non-verbal nuances are missed in just about all forms of communication other than face to face (video conferencing may be the exception).

This last point is around the “problem” emoticons were supposed to “fix” – or at least that’s they way I interpret the birth and prolific use of emoticons.

Emoticons add some “human” to the (one-sided) conversation.

[And … 300+ words in, I’ll finally tell you why I almost never use emoticons. Ha!]

First, I’ve seen way too many “emoticon abuses” over the years.

  1. The insert-every-emoticon-you-possibly-can-in-one-text/email/IM. I love you mom, but … really?
  2. The serial emoticon’er. You know “that guy.” The one who drops a smiley face at the end of every message. Literally. Every. Single. Message. Something tells me you – yes you reading this sentence now – may be that guy or that woman.

Second, while emoticons have the potential to “add some “human” to the (one-sided) conversation” (yeah, I just quoted myself from earlier), too often they do just the opposite. In other words, not all smiley faces (aka 🙂 ) are created the same.

🙂 can mean:

  • “Wink!”
  • “I love you, man.”
  • “I really think you’re an idiot, but if I add this smiley face to the end of my reply, it softens the blow.”
  • “We’re cool, right?” (usually inserted after a scathing comment).

(While writing this post, I asked my Facebook crew to add to the list. See their replies here – some are really really awesome.

So, while the “goal” of emoticons was to add the missing face to face context, it often only makes life more confusing!

And that, my friends, is why I (almost) never use emoticons.

Are you a emoticon user/abuser? Do you LOVE emoticons? Do you use them like my mom does? If so, I would love to hear from you in the comments below. Seriously, tell me what you love about emoticons. Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I’m an idiot <– if you do that, please include a 🙂 at the end. Ha!

P.S. I realize I used 4 emoticons in this blog post. That’s 4 more than I’ve used in the past 4 years!



Great post! As I've mentioned, I know that I am fairly visually illiterate, so I understand that other people may make meaning where I do not. A part of my issue with emoticons is what you've touched on above- there is not a standard definition. I am a total semanticist, and I will hunt up the exact right word with the precise definition I need. And if you aren't familiar with it, the dictionary is available. However...emoticons lack standard definitions, at least as far as I've seen. 


Guilty. Guilty. Guilty! I do love my emoticons. BUT (and let me stress this) not professionally. EVER. Just with friends. Oh and I totally admit that I am a huge dork. :)


@TeresaCaro Ha. Appreciate the honesty. Kindasorta figured not everyone would agree w/ that post.

Yes Exactly
Yes Exactly

I really dislike emoticons in a professional context, personally - they're fine by me. But don't end a professional email with a smiley face, because usually to me that means (

  • “I really think you’re an idiot, but if I add this smiley face to the end of my reply, it softens the blow.

djwaldow moderator

@Yes Exactly Ha. Exactly ... yes. Or is it, Yes Exactly?


@djwaldow I do love a good emoji when texting. But, professionally, I'm not a huge fan of them. I agree that they can be very confusing.


Okay, while we're on the subject of annoying communications aids that have cropped up in the digital age....can we talk about people who always abbreviate the simplest of words while texting? Like "R U there?" Seriously, how long does it take to type "are you"? As in, "are you being chased by a rhinoceros while typing?" I don't get it. I don't really get emoticons either, but I use them more than you do, DJ. 

djwaldow moderator

@stephanies LOL. Good point Stephanie. Wait. I just typed LOL. Crap. But I know what you mean. My dad (hi dad!) does that all the time.


You know, that's a good question. When I saw the question on Facebook, I immediately thought of Rebecca Amy Todd (and the post she wrote about this topic, which I shared on your FB page). She would quite literally view that as colon - hyphen - closed paren. And when I am talking to her on social media, I literally have to stop myself from adding a smiley which tells me I may be a bit of a serial emoticon-er. // I do use them often (and hashtags more often than that) but I don't really see them as replacing anything ... maybe adding a touch of humor or sharing an attempt at a cyber warm and fuzzy. And I think it's pretty cool that your mom emails/texts/whatever -- all moms deserve as many :-) 's as they can get!