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A question was published recently in which the OP asked about the proper style for usage of emoji, which as it turned out I guess he meant emoticons since he was talking about using punctuation marks.

His specific question was:

In the above sentence, if I want to end my thought with a smiley emoji, does the smiley part of the smiley face serve as the lips AND the end of the parenthesis? Depending on the answer...where does the period mark go as well?

He was fairly heavily downvoted, and the question was put on hold for "unclear what you are asking", but I would like to know if it is not actually off-topic.

Are we going to entertain style questions about emoticons and emoji? Are they even covered in any style guide?

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    We generally don't entertain style questions at all, particularly ones which are not covered by style guides. We need questions which invite definitive answers, not opinions. Most punctuation questions fall into this category, and emoticon & emoji questions, given their recent origins, are particularly susceptible to closure. – Dan Bron Dec 9 '16 at 13:08
  • @DanBron That is what I thought--so why was the question not closed for off-topic? – Cascabel Dec 9 '16 at 13:10
  • The question you link to at the beginning of your question is closed as off-topic. Looks like mine was the final close-vote an hour ago... – Dan Bron Dec 9 '16 at 13:10
  • @DanBron " put on hold as unclear what you're asking by cobaltduck, curiousdannii, rand al'thor, Rathony, Dan Bron 1 hour ago " Is that the same as off-topic? sorry, I am not being facetious here. I just do not know. – Cascabel Dec 9 '16 at 13:12
  • Yes, exactly. The question is closed. What are you asking? – Dan Bron Dec 9 '16 at 13:12
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    Oh, you're bothered by the exact wording of the closure. I wouldn't worry about it. The outcome is the same. The question doesn't meet the standards of the site, and so is closed. It can't receive any new answers, and given it has been downvoted, it is subject to automatic deletion. I certainly don't think it's worthwhile to vote-to-reopen just in order to re-close under a different banner. – Dan Bron Dec 9 '16 at 13:16
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    As inchoate and variable as emojis or emoticons may be, and also as idiotic as I may think them, I feel they are somehow on-topic, since they may be used as part of an English (typed) utterance and its reasonable to want to understand the interaction with respect to English language and English speaking culture. Oh, and English orthography and punctuation. I expect that we'd have to moderate such questions closely to ensure they're not frivolous or opinionated, and that they should be answerable. – Mitch Dec 9 '16 at 15:12
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    @Mitch Absent authoritative guidance, from e.g. style guides, how can someone provide an answer which is more than an opinion? Is English punctuation sufficiently different from, say, French or German that any answer about smileys in parens would apply to one but not the other? Questions on such topics might be interesting, no doubt, but they wouldn't be answerable in an academic and dispassionate way. We already close most questions on normal punctuation; even our canonical Q on spaces after periods has already attracted VtCs. Hard to see how questions about novel punctuation would survive. – Dan Bron Dec 9 '16 at 16:39
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    1) Re "sufficiently different" yes, English punctuation is sufficiently different from others, and even if not, the rules are not necessarily well-known 2) ... or well known. Why does everything have to have an external authority? If that were the case then ELU or SE is entirely a LMGTFY source. People can certainly say things here with authority (they should try to justify it with something though: logic, examples, sources). – Mitch Dec 9 '16 at 16:56
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    @Mitch "The rules aren't necessarily well-known": there are no rules, which is why we close such Qs. Why does everything have to have an external authority? So we don't build a quagmire of opinion, which is the mess SE set out to solve in the first place.Grammatical analysis is a canonical example of what can be supported with external authority, and yet essentially impossible to google (SWRs, too, if all you have a definition and no synonym to google). We can't support emoticon answers with logic, because English orthography is set by precedent, not logic. And examples can't just be anecdotal – Dan Bron Dec 9 '16 at 18:04
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    @DanBron We generally don't entertain style questions at all Punctuation is entirely a matter of style, and we answer punctuation questions all the time. – deadrat Dec 10 '16 at 7:52
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    @deadrat There are many punctuation questions that have been closed as "opinion-based" or "lack of research". I see more closed questions in the first page of the tag. We answer punctuation questions all the time doesn't sound correct. – user140086 Dec 10 '16 at 9:49
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    @Rathony OK, consider that the royal first person plural. I've answered punctuation questions 51 times. – deadrat Dec 10 '16 at 9:55
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    @deadrat I don't mind any users' answering those questions. A question related with emoticons will be far closer to primarily opinion-based than simple comma or hyphen-related questions. I think that's the whole important point here. Also, I have never seen any question related with emoticons so far except that the one below. The question received three close-votes. I don't think it is about English. It can be asked on any language site as emoticons are not about language, but expressions that are common in any language. – user140086 Dec 10 '16 at 10:13
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There is precedent for questions about emoticons. Some of these questions have been well-received, others not so much.

I don't think it's wise to have a blanket policy for all emoticon questions; instead, it would be better to evaluate each question on its own, based on the query itself, along with how well it is written, researched, organized, and presented.

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    I think I've upvoted every single one of the answers I've ever seen you post, because they're usually right on the money. But this one I have qualms about: the "well received" example is from 2012, and I guarantee if it were asked today it would be closed. The top answer even says "this is a matter of opinion: you choose". I'd say the default stance is "emoticon questions are off-topic by default, unless the specific can be answered *objectively". – Dan Bron Dec 9 '16 at 17:54
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    @DanB - Actually, I found it instructive that the question from 2012 garnered enough votes to earn a "Nice Question" badge in its day, and one of its answers – one that was written by an eventual site moderator, no less – received a "Nice Answer" badge. The question is indeed based on "an actual problem one faces," it seems. I was hoping that some here might examine that question, and maybe wonder if the community has grown a little zealous in its censuring. Instead, I noticed that the question got a downvote within the first 15 minutes after I answered this question. sigh :-( – J.R. Dec 9 '16 at 18:07
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    (cont.) By the time you squeeze out questions on one side that are solvable via a bit of research on Google, and then eliminate ones on the other side that involve people weighing in with their judgment or expressing an opinion, you've got precious little in the middle worth keeping around. In short, that question probably would be closed if it were asked today; I'll leave it to the reader to decide if that makes this present-day community a better one, or otherwise. – J.R. Dec 9 '16 at 18:09
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    Yes, I have definitely noticed that dilemma. A bit of scylla and charybdis. I sometimes mull the idea of advocating for broadening our scope. But that's going to be a project, for sure, and I'm not sure I want to take it on. Absent that, I do feel compelled to maintain the standards current consensus has established (but I didn't downvote the 2012 emoticon question). – Dan Bron Dec 9 '16 at 18:17
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In general, the mere fact that a question is about emoticons does not warrant closure.

The way emoticons are used makes them part of our language. You can look at usage, track etymology, and assess how well-known or obscure a particular emoticon is. In fact, there are plenty of linguists researching emoticons already.

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015 was 😂.

Additionally, emoticon usage is impacted by the language of the speaker:

  • While geography matters in determining the emoticon style, language has a higher impact. In the Philippines and Indonesia, where English is in common usage along with local languages, users utilized horizontal style emoticons as in predominantly English speaking countries.
  • European users were multi-cultural in terms of emoticon usage with both vertical and horizontal styles being employed in tweets.

Emoticon Style: Interpreting Differences in Emoticons Across Cultures

The fact that some parts of emoticon usage are shared with other languages doesn't actually matter. English gets most of its words from other languages already (what are we going to do, ban questions that happen to be about words that are cognates?).


Of course, this doesn't mean certain emoticon questions shouldn't be closed, like any other question, when they fail to meet certain standards. The question "what does this emoticon mean" is something better solved with basic search skills, and should be closed as general reference.

For the particular question you're asking about, it was reasonable to close as unclear. I looked around; there are a few style guides that mention emoticons, but they all fail to go into more detail than how (in)frequently emoticons should be used. It's not clear what sort of style guide they were expecting the answer to come from. It fits under some of the other options, as well, depending on how you look at it.

Since there's no standard way to use emoticons in English, answers will tend to be opinions ("this is how I do it"), or long lists of many different ways (too broad).

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