I can’t hold it for me any longer. This article has been sitting in my drafts for about six months. Six months during which I kept seeing it, here and there. What am I talking about? Who am I talking about? Well, sit down and hang on, I’m talking about a modern mystery. The kind of mysteries impacting nearly every one at least once in their life, and that only 1% investigate. Good news, by reading these lines you passively enter the 1%… but let’s focus on our mystery.

You know, when you write an angry email at someone, and conclude with a smiley, just to make sure they don’t think you’re an asshole (they will think you are). Well, if you are using Outlook, your recipient will never get to see your poor try. They will end up with a mysterious J and will probably think you’re a blunt asshole for not even trying to be nice with a little smiley.

Some history

What the hell is this J? Well, let’s call it a blast from the past, since this J is the result of a “feature” bundled with Windows since 3.1 – released in 1992. Called Wingdings, this feature is actually a font created in 1990 by respected type designer Charles Bigelow and graphic designer Kris Holmes, who even patented it. The font was created to simplify the use of shapes at a time you couldn’t just grab an image and insert it in a document as easily as today. Wingdings is basically what typographers call a dingbat font, which – as per Wikipedia – “renders letters as a variety of symbols”. How does it work? Easy! When you use the Wingdings font, and type J, K or L you end up with smileys such as those ones:

L

the face of most people while reading this post.

J standing for a smiley face, K neutral and L a sad face. Many other symbols are available in Wingdings, from the Skull and Bones to the Magen David, which was a great opportunity for conspirationists to find some proof of Microsoft being antisemite, or that Jews had orchestrated / were the target of the 9/11 attacks.

Okay, but why those J’s?

Literally no-one over 5, having a normal use of mail clients would ever go and select Windgings from their font list and start including shapes in their emails. So why are J showing up? It appears that Microsoft got you covered on this one, since by default, Outlook decides to auto-correct your “:)” with the Wingdings equivalent. Most probably so that it looks better in your emails. It kind of does, but only for you and your Microsoft-powered contacts.

As a result, and depending on the worldwide mood of the day, millions of J’s are sent daily. That’s a pure assumption, but it has definitely been happening for a while as any Google search on the matter would confirm. Millions of recipients are left dazzled because they are part of the 80% of email users not sporting a Microsoft client. What have you done, Microsoft? Why have you been bundling Wingdings in Windows for so long, and more than anything, why all this hard work replacing smileys with this damned font? Even your own employees are confused J

Unicode for a better world

Since trying to understand the rationale behind the idea of replacing “:)” with a character that means nothing for non-Windows user is probably a dead end, let’s build a better world thanks to Unicode. So if you are using an Outlook client, you can help us all by editing your settings to auto-correct your “:)” with a Unicode character by following these steps. That way, everybody has a chance to know you have feelings. For the rest of us, we can have some fun and send real J’s to alleged Outlook users, just to fight back. Keep in mind we are not alone. Some users have tried to fix this J issue on their end for quite a while, like this good Thunderbird Samaritan or others providing tutorials on how to get rid of the issue. Together we can help Microsoft’s product managers to improve the Office Suite and discontinue a legacy feature that should have been dropped a long time ago already.

Anyways, if you liked this article and for some reason want to support Windgings, act today and become the proud owner of a licence for as little as $29 ☺