Dan Beeston is

Brushing Off Invisible Spiders


24th September 2010

Discworld author Terry Pratchett once said that anyone who uses more than two exclamation marks is a psychopath. I've always subscribed to that school of thought and it occurred to me recently that I have developed a number of other rules in my own personal style guide.

One that was pointed out to me recently by the often imitated but never duplicated Girl Clumsy is that instead of writing an ellipsis as dot dot dot, I would always write comma dot dot. It's like I had to decelerate into the pause for fear of giving the reader whiplash.

I read a brilliant text about punctuation titled 'Eats, Shoots and Leaves'. It puts into black and white how punctuation has traditionally been used, but what it doesn't state, is how it is currently used. The web is a dynamic landscape and  we're suddenly trying to communicate subtleties to an audience who prefer, what can only politely be referred to as, large brush strokes.

How to put forward the notion that we're being gently ribald and sarcastic and not simply being tactless and plain-spoken?

Enter the emoticon.

In the early eighties Scott Fahlman typed the first ascii visage and turned the facial expression on its ear. Suddenly you could quickly and easily explain if you were happy :) sad :( or wished to infer that the recipient was, metaphorically, a part of the male genitalia 8===D

You could also, if the fancy took you, make a sarcastic comment. While the text medium was plain and obvious, tagging a comment with :P to infer a friendly tongue poke could disarm a potentially hostile comment. Of course, this, as was pointed out by the aforementioned Girl Clumsy with the phrase "You and your fucking sarcastic emoticon", would only go so far. Some would say that there is a little truth in every joke and you can't really get away with saying "And thus finishes a comprehensive list of your many flaws :P"

All in all I learned to simply not make sarcastic comments in text.

Now the emoticon removed a lot of problems, but it also created a few of its own. Most emoticons end up down the tail end of a sentence and the default use is to simply replace the period with the emotion. It can get confusing when dealing with question marks but the most frustrating thing is what to do when making an aside in the text and then finishing that aside with an emoticon.

An aside can be created simply by putting a comment in a set of parentheses (Just like this). But what if I wanted to put a smiley face at the end of the aside (Like this :) )?

What the hell has happened there? I wanted to put a simple smiley but now it's far too happy at having a light bulb jammed in its throat. What if it's a frowny face (Like this:() Even ditching the question mark it still looks like a frog.

Well I'm solving this problem right here and now. From this point on an emoticon officially replaces periods, question marks and exclamation marks. It also replaces the closing parentheses mark. Want to put an emoticon in the middle of the sentence? Too frigging bad! You shouldn't be writing run-on sentences anyway.

"And what of the interrobang?" I hear you ask. You know what? You can fuck right off you typographic hipster douche-bag! The interrobang serves no purpose that a simple question mark followed by an exclamation point can't. Indeed to really add emphasis to your exclamatory question you can even add two.

But never three.

That would be the sign of a psychopath wouldn't it?


Girl Clumsy

I over-emoticon, and I know it. But then I seem to have a habit of saying things that upset people without me meaning to, so I think I'm paranoid. :)

(See, there we go!)

Like the header as well! Very cool.

The Wah

And those that even attempt to introduce gnaborretnis into common English usage will be kicked hard in the quads.


Actually, it is technically incorrect to have two !!s, according to many style guides. It's either one !, or three !!!s. So not psychopathic then - just RIGHT.