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Random Musings
Vol. 1, No. 2: Why Can't Internet Users Speak Like Normal People?

Random Musings is collection of opinions, commentary, humor, satire, information and other thoughts escaping from the cluttered mind of the not necessarily well-informed Gerald "grsamf" Smith concerning news and events in the world of computers and their use.

I. Introduction

The question for today, obvious from the title, is: Why can't internet users learn to speak English? Or German? Or Spanish? Or Greek? Or any native language? I chose English because it is the language of this site and the only language that I read, but I suspect the apparent abhorrence of using time-honored words and expressions in one's native language is cross-lingual and cross-cultural. Smilies, acronyms, synthetic languages, and other so-called shortcuts are part of nearly every discussion forum or chat room we visit and are becoming more commonplace on websites in general. E-mail is particularly vulnerable to such alleged creativity. To those who would accuse me of doing many of the things I complain about in this article, I say: Guilty as charged. So sue me.

I am not speaking here of the technical language of computerdom, which is totally incomprehensible to those without a degree magna cum laude from the University of Geekness. For example, take the following piece of information from a discussion of customizing web browsers:

"On a side note, I would ideally like to see the rendering part of a browser as a pipeline. You can then add stages to the pipeline at a position of your liking. Pretty much making the rendering of pages into a set of filters applied to the raw bytestream (a bit like *nix and files/pipes works, I suppose). That way you could e.g. add an ad blocking system even before the real HTML parser kicks in. Or add a translation mechanism before the rendering happens. It would make the whole rendering engine very customizable, too."

Thanks. That clears up a lot.

Computer hardware terminology may be even more intimidating. Ask an expert about increasing the speed of your computer and one will hear of such mysteries as overclocking and CPU multipliers. Gleefully added are details concerning memory settings, with instructions on RAS settings, CAS settings, and RAS to CAS settings, with little regard for the fact that the person asking the question doesn't know his or her RAS from a hole in the ground.

And of course, we won't even get into the areas of the language and names of language used by designers, developers, programmers, and the like. Except to say it seems to me that anyone who settles for using something that gets only a C or C+ or even a C++ is settling for less than the best. If I were a programmer, I would demand at least a B+ or possibly an A- for anything I might be using. An A or A+ would likely be prohibitively expensive and unworkably snobbish.

Ah, well, this tech talk is all Boolean to me. Back to the subject at hand.

II. Smilies

There are of course valid reasons for many of the shortcuts that are taken. Smilies (or smileys-we can't even agree on the spelling of words we make up), reminiscent of the sinister happy faces plastered all over everything decades ago, came into use because the written word on a computer screen cannot convey the emotional nuances intended by the conveyor of the message. Thus, a cyber smile after what might appear to be a harsh word lets the reader know the writer was just kidding or otherwise not intending to offend. Originally, smilies were simply typographical symbols and/or letters vaguely resembling a smile or other expression, although you normally had to tilt your head or view the symbol from another room to gestalt the meaning. They were soon replaced by iconic figures, little round heads performing the action. Animation was then added. These days, a smilie that isn't animated is like a Kia in a world of Ferraris. Over time, the use of smilies has become ubiquitous and they are often shorthand for all manner of things. Often they mean absolutely nothing of value.

Many people have apparently devoted their lives to the creation of smilies and have made their creations available for the rest of us to use indiscriminately in our e-mails, chats, and forum postings. A Google search for "free download smilies" returns over 1.4 million web pages. Using the alternative spelling "free download smileys" yields 400,000+ pages. Forgetting free downloads and searching just for "smilies" brings us 16 million pages of reading pleasure, while "smileys" gives us over 5 million. Even assuming that many pages are duplicated in the totals, how many different ways are needed to convey "just kidding," or "I'm sorry" or "good morning"?

Smilies

And many smilies are not so smiley at all. There are thousands of so-called smilies that depict unhappiness, anger, confusion, fear, astonishment, and any number of other emotions or actions. Many of them that intend to convey anger should be X-rated for violence as they creatively show little heads shooting, bashing, burning, or otherwise wreaking havoc on and maiming each other. I suppose calling all of these "smilies" instead of more accurate names is easier than making up other terms, such as "bawlies," "head-scratchies," or "killies."

Maybe all this creativity serves a purpose, although the purpose that would require 20 million websites having some reference to smilies escapes me.