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Joy and regret in the pre-emoticon era

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How did we express sad or happy or wishful thinking before emoticons? It was easy enough and packed quite a wallop. Thanks to my dear friend Mona Kolko for the reminder that a written refusal has the power to be, in the hands of those who care to make it so, a refined and powerful statement of heartfelt regret. She said that the last article (Saying “no” without saying “no”) brought back a memory for her. One of the regrets she received for her 1964 wedding invitation was from, in her words, “very classy” parents of a friend who wrote, "Would that we could". Prize winning little sentence! It carries despair at having to decline and acknowledgement that it is a joyous event. All in four words.

This was, remember, sent in 1964, when hand-written, snail-mailed responses were the only acceptable etiquette. How to get the feel of sorrow, joy, wishful thinking and wishes contrary to reality all into one small collection of words?

The emoticon of an era not so long gone by was the subjunctive mood. Yes, words are endowed with moods so we can express ours. As use of this elegant form of speech has dwindled, although why we would be willing to let this go is a total mystery, we began to rely on the hand-drawn smiley, happy or sad face – that little circle with the, well, you know. Then the computer emoticons, hearts and various keyboard tricks saved us from even having to hand-draw a circle.

Do we know anymore why we say, “Be that as it may?” or “Far be it from me”? It seems we are communicatively poorer for having bailed out on the dramatic force of the subjunctive. Four words sent fifty years ago still memorable. Fifty years from now, will we remember that yellow grinning or grimacing face as anything meaningful?

From me to you with love in the air,

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