A recent study of gendered language on Twitter got me thinking about emoticons. The analysis out of Scotland found that women's tweets tend to be more emotive than men's, riddled with "haha," hehe, "omg" and "yay." And -- just to really cement the gender stereotypes here -- "chocolate." The most male-predictive words on Twitter? "Google" and "http."
Women likely emote so much more in computer-mediated communication than men because it reflects gendered communication patterns in face-to-face conversations. From personal experience, I'll toss in a "haha" or "hehe" to clarify that I'm joking and not being a sarcastic jerk (unless I'm talking about chocolate; because I never joke about chocolate. Ha.). Same thing with emoticons. While emoticons are probably the most reviled part of computer speak, they allow us to clarify -- even with a wink, if we must -- our tone. Self-proclaimed emoticon inventor and computer scientist Scott Fahlman rues the day (Sept. 19, 1982, to be precise) he tossed out that colon and parenthesis grin, quoted in the Hacker's Dictionary: "I had no idea that I was starting something that would soon pollute all the world's communication channels."
Who uses those smiley faces more? You guessed it: women. But two studies uncovered a compelling pattern with male emoticon use. Women bring out the punctuation mark grins and winks in men. When guys chat with other guys, emoticon use is minimal. Yet when women enter the conversation, both genders toss out emoticons at about the same frequency. However, the same smile might mean different things, depending on whether men or women are typing. In an emoticon analysis from Taiwan, women used them more to express friendliness and humor, while men used emoticons sarcastically to flame.
Men LOL-facing more when talking to women might not be a wise idea though, at least if they want to appear suave. Although women are more flagrant emoticon abusers, anecdotally we're not too keen on the menfolk doing so. Joe Berkowitz over at The Hairpin observes, "It has increasingly come to my attention that a lot of women consider the male usage of emoticons and LOL to be at best a 'pet peeve,' and at worst a 'total dealbreaker."