It has long annoyed me that there is no intuitive, straightforward way to disable smileys in chat programs.
Today I found that these two commands can do it for iChat for mac:
$ cd /Applications/iChat.app/Contents/Resources/English.lproj/
$ mv SmileyTable.plist SmileyTable.plist.bak
Restart iChat. (tip from MacOSXhints.com: Disable graphical smileys in iChat 3.0 but it works for me on Mac OS X 10.5.8 with iChat 4.0.8 (619).
Now my conversations look like this:
Which reminds me that I better soon write a short article on the problem of having the wrong and obtrusive defaults in your applications.