Wednesday, July 29, 2015

True power of the smilies

I never truly understood the true power of smilies until recently. If you’re not familiar with smilies, they’re little typographical symbols used in online communications to give an indication of the tone of the message. Like if you tell a joke or think something’s funny, you type :-) or :) which looks like a smiling face if you look at them sideways. You can even wink by typing ;-). The period after ;-) is not part of the smilie, but you probably knew that, and if not, the rest of this is not going to make much sense. Just know that it’s terribly funny. And wise. :-)

When smilies are turned into little pictures, then they are called emoticons, which really should be related to the Decepticons, but aren't as far as I know.

I use smilies, of course, but recently I learned their amazing ability to negate the most terrible things ever written. Here’s an example: Your opinions stink. Your politics stink. Your parents stink. Your children stink. Your spouse stinks. You are the most stinky person of all the stinky persons to ever walk this earth. In other words, you stink. :-) Sounds insulting, doesn’t it? But apparently that smilie at the end negates all the power of the insult. It’s a gentle jest between close friends. Ha ha!And that’s a good thing, because I’ve seen online exchanges that would have led to undying hatred and multi-generational feuds in years past.

Of course, people behave badly on the Net. They say things to other people that they would never dare say to their face. The anonymity and the distance make people much braver than good sense should allow them to be. That’s one of the reasons I don’t have Facebook friends that I don’t know personally. I want to be able to drive to their house and say to their frightened and pale faces, “Now, what were you saying about my parentage?”

Psychologists say smilies are another example of “passive-aggressive” behavior in today’s society, i.e. nice to your face, mean when your back is turned. A dog that engages in passive-aggressive behavior is known as a fear-biter. (The next time your neighbor’s rat dog attacks your ankle, you can tell it, “Little dog, you’re being passive aggressive,” just before you kick its yapping behind over the fence.) A passive-aggressive human known as a Congressman or lawyer.

Southern folk use something like smilies in regular conversation. They use the phrase “bless her/his heart” as their negating clause. For instance, Aunt Lydia Jo will say, “I wish Bessy Dawn wouldn’t wear yellow. She looks like she was pushed in the ugly river and downright drowned twice, bless her heart.”

And her friend Hester will reply, “Oh, I know, but her husband is no better. Why, his face looks like five miles of country road after a flood followed by a herd of diarrheic cattle, bless his heart.”

A variation of this -- "pray for him/her" -- allows Aunt Lydia Jo to negate the harmful effects of gossip. “I heard Mattie Mary’s niece on her husband’s side is running around town with the mailman’s second cousin’s son again, pray for her.” 

“Oh, I know,” Hester says. “That girl’s no better than she is, that’s for sure. Why, she wears less clothes than one of my Jacob’s hounds and has no more morals than a Senator at a money trough, pray for her.”

I’ve often wondered if the preacher’s call for unspoken prayer requests was to avoid scurrilous gossip masquerading as spiritual concern. Maybe he doesn’t understand the true power of those smilies. :-)

(From the forthcoming book Floozy Comes Back. Copyright 2015 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)

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