Using Emoticons Isn’t Sexy

Remember when the whole concept of signing off an email with an “XO” was a relatively new idea?  When I wrote this piece for The L.A. Times, I recall being genuinely flummoxed by the fact that a married guy I only knew because we’d both taught writing at the same place was suddenly X’ing and O’ing it up in emails to me. Up until then, I’d thought such flirty but benign sign-offs were solely meant to be used in communication with close friends, family members, and people you were dating.

Can you believe there ever was such an innocent time? Now I’m just as likely to get an XO from a publicist pitching me a story as I am from the author of a newsletter I allegedly signed up for though I have no memory of doing so. X’s and O’s are now so prevalent that they’re barely worth mentioning. Especially now that their redneck cousins, emoticons, have gurgled to the surface.

Oh, emoticon — or, dear God, emoji — is there every really a place for you? In the admittedly judgmental world I live in, not really. (Perhaps this particular judgment is my birthright: Larry David — not, alas, despite our same last name, a relative — feels similarly.)

Now, look: I’ve been guilty of the odd smiley face at times. But by “at times” I probably mean twice and they were in all likelihood occasions where I was stricken with co-dependent guilt and fear that what I was writing would surely get taken out of context and I’d alienate the recipient forever if I didn’t sign off in a way more fitting for an 11-year-old than a grown woman. This Spartan use of emoticons seems appropriate in light of what I’ve read about the emoticon’s origins — apparently it was simply the easiest way a Carnegie Mellon Computer Science research professor could communicate whether something he wrote was a joke or not.

But emoticons have opened the door to all sorts of other forms of “just joshing” text and email communication that surely no nice Computer Science professor could have possibly imagined. Take the communiqué I once received from a guy I was supposed to go out with: Hey, it read, wear something sexii.

I tried to rein in my judgmental side. I tried, in other words, to not be me.

But some things cannot be reigned in. What adult with an IQ high enough to know how to text would choose to text someone he supposedly wanted to meet an instruction that she wear something sexy and choose to make the Y into two I’s?

I wanted to cancel the date. But, I reminded myself, I knew men who would never do such a thing who turned out to be terrible in some other way. Maybe, I reasoned, I needed to open my mind to the segment of the population who would issue such sartorial instructions and exchange two I’s for a Y.

Sexii? I texted back.

One for you and one for me, he responded. Pretty good, aren’t I? Wink, wink.

This was no mere smiley face, no cheesy spelling or forgivable abbreviation. This was willful idiocy followed by a prideful demand for congratulations and several winks. I didn’t care anymore if I was being too judgmental: I feigned a sudden emergency and never met the guy.

Look, I know it’s not original to complain about the way text language has taken over our culture. But I’m not doing that. In fact, I throw down btw’s and tmrw’s with the best of them. Still, I do this to save time, not because I’m trying to be clever. I’m not doing it, in other words, to try to incite a reaction.

But clever and creative texting is. I was recently telling a male friend the “sexy with two I’s” story and he theorized that the guy was simply trying to communicate the fact that he wanted to get laid.

Really? I asked. This hadn’t crossed my mind. Some women out there are turned on by sexii’s?

He said something about how emoticons are all we have in a world that’s growing increasingly technical and unemotional. Rather than saying I love you, he pointed out, we write 143. Now, as someone who obsesses day and night over words and how they should be placed together in sentences, I’m not sure how to feel about this. Are we making it easier for people to express their feelings — to, say, tell others they love them — because they can now use symbols instead of words or are we distancing them from their emotions by allowing them to communicate in tech speak?

I don’t really know. But I do know that if someone told me they loved me by texting me 143, I wouldn’t find that sexy — not to mention sexii — at all. TC mark

image – Shutterstock


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  • Alan Garcia

    Well, good to know. Shirley now I will start sending and taking all text messages seriously.

  • uck


  • Winkwink4u

    articles about the “proper” use of language in new cultural mediums should be left in 2011. get over it

  • xoxo

    I have a feeling Anna David isn’t a very fun date. 

  • Anonymous

    I think it is ;)

  • Jordana Bevan

    clearly you haven’t seen FB’s new meme-oticons. 

  • Guinevere

    I usually use emoticons for acquaintances. Say, people who don’t really know me too deeply or people I’m not so attached to.  For one, I realized they work when chatting with co-workers and you’re actually not smiling or whatever but you don’t want to seem stern.  Besides, it’s stylistics and code-switching. They tell you something about people, even what they’re actually hiding or pretending to be. If that guy texted ‘sexy’, does that mean you could have gone instead?

  • PlanB

    Yet another frustrated English Major being judgmental and obvious. Groundbreaking. 

    • Anna

      I was an English major but don’t feel too frustrated by it. It is, however, an indication of frustration to insult people anonymously on the message boards for their stories.

  • Anonymous

    Emoticons are sexii as fuck. They provide a convenient, efficient technology to add emotional context to short messages. They can also be used as indicators of self-awareness and the inherent absurdity of communication, the equalizing, adolescent vulnerability that underlies all of our tragically doomed, imperfect efforts to connect . Invented by tweens and people on the internet (the new architects of pop culture), this technology will probably undergo a renaissance in the coming decade, until all communication becomes visual =p

    • justsomeguy

      agreed ,fucking agreed,everything is going to be so streamed soon it will be like emoticons on serious steroids anyway and people might crave the old days when they didn;t have to actually look at a person,like contast skype all over the place.

  • Lonestarr

    Sexii is lame.  If you want to get laid, just be straight about it.  The greatest emoticon ever conceived works well for this:  (>^(>O.o)>

  • Morgan

    Well, you totally overlooked this guy’s method of flirting.
    He was into you. And you didn’t give him a chance because of his playfulness…
    It’s quite ridiculous of you if you ask me.
    I might’ve found it to be unattractive, but I’m more go with the flow so I would’ve at least gone on the date (dressing as sexy as I wanted though…who cares what he wants; I don’t even know the guy.)

  • Emily Anne

    I get where Anna’s coming from – does anyone really want to get a text that sounds like it came from a tween when it came from an adult? I wouldn’t have gone on that date either.

  • Bigchefproductions

    I remember you saying this about the emoticons on AOTS and it made me question if I should send them or not. Then I got an android and it gave me a button to send them super easy. But I still think before sending. I only send to people that have sent to me before. I wouldn’t want to scare off a girl that is similar to you Anna.

  • Anonymous

    i believe there is a place in this world for the use of emoticons…then again, i only use lower case letters in emails and for social media unless i am communicating for business or some other such important type of missive…i am also very fond of the ellipsis, as you can see…yet i know it is not the intended purpose…
    (i was VERY tempted to use an emoticon right there, but decided against it, as i didn’t want to put too fine a point on it) i suppose, in the future, when i tweet at you, i will try to refrain from the use of emoticons…but i do not guarantee i will be wholly successful… 

  • Anthony Mark

    The only time I ever use Emoticons is when I am having a Yahoo Chat with a VERY Close female friend who I have known for 7 years. Other than her , I never use them.
    Thank you for writing this article, I am sharing it with people so that they can see that I am not alone in my dislike of the Emoticon. 
    Your work always makes me smile!

  • commentymccommentson

    Even as an English major with generally anal opinions about language, I’m not sure I agree. To me, emoticons sub in for the facial expressions lacking in online communication, which can otherwise be toneless. Why not follow a teasing text with a smiley face, or even a winking face? Or throw in a friendly emoticon in an email to break up formalness? They’re communicative, not cheesy.

  • Elevenelevenxo

    No one wants to talk to a robot. A smiley face does not equal immaturity in the least, in my opinion. Now, if the text/e-mail/whatever is saturated with them, that’s different.

    The “sexii” thing… I understand where you’re coming from. To some people, it is a legitimate turn-off when everyday words are intentionally spelled different for the “cool” or “clever” factor. It screams “uneducated” to me.

    I’m going to go barf because I just used so many quotation marks. That also annoys me. Hah.

  • Alexis Brown

    It’s taken me 3 guys too many to learn that if someone texts like they’re stupid, they probably are, even if they’re smart (read: stupid).  My moment of enlightenment was when I was texting this guy who was pretending to be sick instead of just telling me he didn’t want to see me. He had sent misspelled/icky texts in the past: “Hey, it’s $48 one way to hondores” – “No, its $46 one way to hondorus from DC.” – “So hott” (I thought that was a joke, I replied “Thanx,” a word as unattractive as Spanx) – “i just want u to know that your totally goregous” (literally kill me). There were many more. At the time, I just ignored my silent anguish and tried not to be a word snob, because, I don’t know, I thought no one else would ever think I was goregous in the near or distant future.

    In the final text exchange we had I said, “You should probably see a doctor.” He said “I have, hence to medicine.”

    Hence to medicine.

    I literally said, “What the fuck,” outloud – mostly to myself for having been so interested in this guy for so long and routinely dismissing something that really bothered me. Glad I finally learned that I do have standards even if I always forget to exercise them.

  • Fanchon Chance

    Being a writer for Thought Catalog (a mediocre one at that) isn’t sexy, either. Go figure.

    • Bigchefproductions

      Most jobs aren’t sexy. She is just writing on the way she feels and her thoughts on certain things. Either way, Anna David could do anything and it would be sexy.

    • Bruce James

      Sounds like someone is jealous. Have you yet graduated high school? What are your qualifications to determine if a longtime published author is mediocre?

      • Fanchon Chance

        Lol, are you SERIOUS? There’s nothing there to be jealous OF. And I graduated from high school quite some time ago, thank you very much. One doesn’t need “proper qualifications” to judge an author’s work. What’s most important is one’s own judgement about something, not anybody else’s (this applies to everything in life).

        David hasn’t written anything that is going to shake the world, nor will she ever in her lifetime. Most of the people who bother to read the bulk of the crap aritcles on this site have probably never heard of her (or ever will, if they’re the type to just read the article and go without ever checking the writer’s name, and MOST people do that). Nothing about this article is “intelligent” and she has a slight air of a condescending tone in EVERYTHING she writes, if not blatant at times.

        Just because someone is published that doesn’t mean they are immune to mediocrity.

  • justsomeguy

    dislike your comment and completely boring over analyzation reading this comment is boring dude, perhaps you should stick to art history and stay away from writing in general.

  • Bruce James

    “…This was willful idiocy followed by a prideful demand for congratulations …” That’s funny, right there. Once again, Miss Anna, you deliver solid writing – intelligently well written to express your obvious dissatisfaction with the popular status quo without coming across as condescending.

  • Fanchon Chance

    Yeah, it’s the exact same person. I’m not surprised in the slightest, honestly. lol

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