Electronic mail and instant messaging seem very different from phone conversations or postal mail. In fact, it’s almost as if a new language has been born from these mediums. E-mail and instant messages tend to appear to the uninitiated as meaningless collections of misspelt words, nonsense letters combinations, and odd groups of punctuations.

Many electronic mail messages lack the formal structure one is used to with regular mail. E-mail does not have to start with “Dear Sir or Madam” or the like, nor must it end with “Sincerely,” “Regards,” or “Best wishes”.

E-mail and instant messages do not conform to ‘normal’ syntactical rules. They may contain incomplete fragments. Punctuation may be used incorrectly, if at all. Some write in an EE Cummings-style (or should that be ee cummings?) Forgoing proper capitalization rules for sentence beginnings, proper words, and the like. A new set of “rules” has really emerged from these mediums.

How can you decipher these sometimes incoherent messages? It helps to learn about smilies and abbreviations.

1) Smilies – What are they?


What’s that – a colon and a parenthesis?

No, take a further look. Turn your head to your left. Now you should see a smiling face. The colon has become two eyes, and the parenthesis has become a smiling mouth.

Smilies arc away from the old days of communicating via computers that could not easily transmit graphics in a way other computers could decipher. Sure, nowadays you can attach digitized scans of your smiling face in an e-mail message if you desire, but many years ago, such modern conveniences were unheard of. Thus, to signify emotions in a normally unemotional medium, the ‘smilie’ was born, using characters and symbols common to almost all different types of computers.

Here are a few common smilies used in electronic mail messages, chatting, instant messaging, and text messages:

Smile – :)

Frown – :(

Wink -;)

Laugh -: D

Here are a few lesser-known or nonstandard smilies, though they get their messages across:

Excitement or surprise -: O

A bigger frown -: C

Smiling guy with a nose – :-)

Smiling guy with a moustache -: {)

The possibilities are almost infinite …

2) Abbreviations

Bandwidth has not always been cheap. Plus, people do not like to type. Combine these two facts and you see why abbreviations became so popular in electronic communication. Abbreviations are often used in instant messaging, as well as text messaging on cell phones where it can take several button presses just to type a single letter.

Although it’s not recommended to use abbreviations when sending a letter to the president of a corporation, you’d be surprised how many people use at least a few of these time-savers!

Here are some common abbreviations:

brb – Be Right Back

lol – Laugh Out Loud

l8r – Later

cul8r – See You Later

rotf – Rolling on the Floor [Sometimes with an L suffix for Laughing, ‘rofl’ or ‘rotfl’]

luv u – Love You!

Electronic mail is different from regular mail, and instant messaging compares little to the verbal conversation. Both have their own sets of conventions, including the uses of smilies and abbreviations. Smilies, even in the age of graphical e-mail, still serve as a common method of expressing emotion. Abbreviations continue to communicate frequently-used statements, requiring limited amounts of typing. By understanding these conventions, you have a better chance of understanding, and using, electronic mail and instant messages.

Related Article: Sending Funny But Clean SMS (Short Message Service) Jokes

Featured Image: lifewire
by Andrew Malek