Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Protocol of Smilies

Most people use smilies every day without thinking about it. They surround us, penetrate us, and bind our social life together.

I was probably introduced to smilies in the late 90s, when my mother was writing an e-mail and showed me that a colon mark and a closed parentheses make a smiling face.


You had to tilt your head, but the smilie was definitely there. That moment revolutionized my world.

If you wanted to add a dash in between the colon and the closed parentheses, you could make a nose.


And you can make a frowning face.


Introduce an apostrophe or semicolon, and you can make a crying face or a winking face.

Over a decade later, the universe of smilies has exploded. To show only a few:


The Rules

Just like our conscience tells not to steal or cheat, most of us inherently know, at this point in human civilization, how to use smilies. However, it has come to my attention that there is also an unspoken Protocol of Smilies. I am about to make it spoken. In doing so, I will step on some toes, but these rules will help you in the same way that table manners do.

You don't want to talk with your mouth full, do you?

Smilie Rule #1: No More Noses

The dash is dead. No more noses in your smilies. Mothers are allowed to use smilies because mothers are sweet, but internet natives should not be using noses. Girls might be able to get away with it, but men will get their Man Cards revoked if they use a nose.

Smilie Rule #2: No Smilies in Bro Texts

If you have a girlfriend, then you can send her a smilie in your text.

hey beautiful, how are you doing? :)

That's okay. But the following is not allowed:

hey bro, let's hit up the tailgates before we go to the game :)

In bro-to-bro communication, smilies are okay* in chatrooms (does anyone use those any more?), messages, and e-mail, but not in text.

*My friend Will is a staunch believer that bros should never, ever use smilies. This may cause a religious scism.

Smilie Rule #3: The Open Parentheses-Reverse Smilie

You know which one I'm talking about.


If you're a girl, then you're fine. It's avant garde, it's cute, it's original.
If you're a guy...Man-Card-Revoke'd!

Smilie Rule #4: The Dangerous P

:P is one of my all-time favorite smilies. However, it is, by far, the most dangerous smilie to use in any communication, bro-to-bro, bf-to-gf, or bff-bff.

The Dangerous P can be anything from a sweet, innocent "jk" to a scathing firebrand of scarcasm.


haha, no worries :P

i really value that insightful comment you left on my YouTube video :P

Ooh. Now that was scarcastic.

Be careful with the Dangerous P...especially in those girlfriend texts, man. In fact, don't text your girlfriend. Girls really like it when you don't contact them*. It means you're mysterious.
*SteventheThorn takes no responsibility for any relationships that may be terminated as a result of following this advice.

Conclusion: Follow the Protocol of Smilies

This not just a set of arbitrary rules. This is civilization. Absolute values. Right and wrong.
Do you want us to devolve into anarchy?

Remember, it is easier for a camel to use a smilie than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.


  1. I propose an amendment to to Congressman Thorn's legislation. Rule #1 should be dropped and replaced with a "simpler smilies are better" rule that forbids getting too elaborate if you're a bro.

  2. Amendment to Rule 4:

    the :P face is dangerous in more than one way. When flirting with girls via IM one must limit these goofy faces. Women might like funny/goofy guys but not ones who are only as such. You should hold to 1 every ten minutes at least unless it is a very sarcastic conversation and then only 1 goofy face should be able to be seen at a time on the active part of your chat window.

  3. The 1 smilie/10 minute ratio sounds reasonable, as does the simpler smilies idea. We'll put that on the agenda for the next committee meeting.