Artemy Lebedev

§ 135. Informal typography

June 4, 2006

Alden Whitman. How do you rank yourself among writers (living) and of the immediate past?

Vladimir Nabokov. I often think there should exist a special typographical sign for a smile—some sort of concave mark, a supine round bracket, which I would now like to trace in reply to your question.

Nabokov V. Strong Opinions. April 1969 interview.

Typographical methods can be broadly divided into formal and informal. The former are used in serious newspapers, magazines, and books. The latter are frequent in diverse tools of personal communication on the web.

The use of informal methods on traditional carriers can make one’s life much more fun.

Admen were the first to employ this method by crossing out the “old” price. A lower price would be written beside the old one, which kept standing there for comparison. Of course, the viewer sees both prices.

The practice of accentuating the implicit meaning by strikethrough has grown very popular with jerk-offs and exhibitionists bloggers and journal keepers.

Strikethrough would look wonderful in an advertising or newspaper header, let alone a simple book page.

Until recently, all attempts to sprinkle a text with emoticons have been largely unsuccessful. There are only two signs used in today’s texts to convey emotions: question and exclamation marks. Ellipsis that tends to be used as a perplexity mark or a drumroll preceding, as it were, an insipid report (heavily overused by Russian journalists), can be loosely regarded as a mood sign.

Smileys that have been used in electronic mail for the last twenty years or so find their way into print in two cases: in articles about smileys or in moronic youth press.

Smileys are undeservedly viewed as a second-rate expressive medium :-(

When they are composed of punctuation marks, you have a real, pure, classical typographic method with all its formal trappings (Roman numerals originally didn’t consist of Latin letters either). So they can and should be used :-)

However, when you come across smileys inserted in a text as images (especially animated ones), you have surely happened to ramble into a forum of dunces .

A smiley properly put will be an accurate indication of the author’s elated mood and help prevent a set-to if no words were minced.

Of course, strikethroughs and smileys are a feeble substitute for sharp wit and an ability to communicate the point.

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