Lament or Celebrate: Are Emoticons the New Comma?
“The rule is: don’t use commas like a stupid person. I mean it.”
— Lynne Truss (Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation)
As it just so happens, some of us view grammar like a Math equation. We see that an independent clause plus a subordinate clause equals complex sentence. We hear a sentence and are diagramming it in our minds. The simple sentence holds a wee descriptive adjective that clings desperately to its noun. The red wheel-barrow is glazed with rain water beside the white chickens, and so much depends on it. All of this descriptive burden of adjectives falls upon our humble wheel-barrow, but he accepts the descriptors with strength and grace. Are you still reading? Then you must be part of this grammatical march holding the fort on emoticons.
Emoticons fight a strong battle. They fight exclamation points with :-0. Who needs a question mark when one can use a :-[ ? And I see the ubiquitous period supplanted by ;-P, as if to say, “Yes, I could end my sentence, but I choose to stick my virtual tongue out at you instead.” Thus, we readers, awash in confusion and virtual spit, still wait patiently to see the thought come to its conclusion. It does not.
In this society of keyboards over letters and phones used for anything but phone calls, we wonder if grammar will fight back against these visual short cuts. Will the colon still divide thoughts, or will our children’s children only know it as a pair of eyes? Fight back, grammarians! Use your comma after a direct address; link two sentences together with a semi-colon. Lecture your peers to glaze-eyed boredom, but let grammar live on!