Semiotic Defense Mechanisms

Friday, April 5th, 2013


There are lots of things I say on the internet that make me feel vulnerable. When I express my feelings I feel shy. When I try to say intellectual things I get worried about sounding like a know-it-all or missing the point. When I try to enter conversations with people, I am scared of facing rejection. When I have direct answers or comments for people, I get nervous about coming off as bossy or rude. Things like this. The list goes on. Text-based communication has an intimidating, neurosis-inducing permanence to it that just makes me go crazy. How to deal?

Here are some of the semiotic defense mechanisms I’ve noticed myself using:

The Tilde ~

The tilde has this way of making everything look so playful and “ironic” that totally eases my nerves around writing any stream of genuine thought I have. The tilde is like a piece of fluffy padding that turns what might have been pretentious jargon or naive sentiment into flirting.

For example:


The Heart ❤

The heart has similar intonations to the tilde, but with a more loving touch. In this way, it can be used to shield hateful or aggressive comments with a sense of “good intention”. It works well with underhanded compliments.

For example:


At the same time, the heart also does a good job of adding a touch of “distance” to forward and affectionate compliments. When expressing admiration for someone with whom your power relations might be ambiguous or uneven, the heart acts as a coy buffer. It can be useful for initiating intimacy.

For example:


 *The Asterisk Bracket*

For some reason, the asterisk seems to have almost replaced the role of the quotation mark in internet speak. In the “postmodern” world, we have developed a hypersensitive paranoia around being unable to adequately express ourselves through the current palimpsestial vocabulary we have to work with – “thus” “everything” “must” “be” “put” “in” “quotations.”

Perhaps even quotations are now insufficient? Enter the asterisk bracket.

For example:

Sometimes the asterisk bracket seems to do more than quotations, though, in that it can also serve to italicize the bracketed word.

For example:


The Exclamation Point!

I see the exclamation point as an overcompensating effort to counter any and all potential interpretations of “bitchy” tone with excessive enthusiasm. The difficulty in conveying tone without an audio component tends to drive a fixation with making sure to not come off as rude or upset. The exclamation point seems a common remedy to this worry, despite “excitement” not usually being the appropriate voice to assume. Better safe than sorry I guess.

For example:


Extraaaaaaa Letters

Although I don’t see or use this convention so frequently anymore, adding extra letters on to words is a totally classic method of message-padding. Extra letters are able to exaggerate excitement or whiney-ness. By this means of hyperbole, the speaker can blatantly depreciate the genuineness of their statement.

For example:



One comment on “Semiotic Defense Mechanisms

  1. I like your thoughts on text based communication. It is really interesting Melissa, I often think about this method of communication and in particular how I have changed and used some of the above for the various reasons you state as well as for other reasons. What do you think of the use of acronyms like the LOLs and the OMGs? I admittedly thought I would never use them but find myself using them, right up there with words like awesome. 🙂 (Perhaps I am using the smiley to make sure I am not offending anyone).
    I wonder if with these symbols, acronyms etc. if we are forming a new vocabulary and language that has begun to change the way we communicate and the meanings of our communication.

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