Oxford Dictionaries just selected its word of the year for 2015 and here it is: 😂. Yes, for the first time in history, the hallowed authority on the English language is selecting a pictograph, a.k.a. emoji, as its word of the year.
The selection is the culmination of a partnership between Oxford University Press, the publisher of all Oxford dictionaries, with third-party software keyboard maker SwiftKey. The partnership worked to “explore frequency and usage statistics for some of the most popular emoji across the world.” The linguistic duo determined that 😂, also known as ‘face with tears of joy,’ was by far the most oft-used emoji around the world in 2015.
😂 is a fascinating choice for Oxford Dictionaries—one that emphasizes how important the emoji has become to modern language. The rise of text-centric communication apps such as Line, WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger have made emojis a necessary solution for expressing emotion as clearly as possible. That’s a limitation that written text has never been able to overcome, especially with short bursts of communication made up of just a line or two.
Emoji as language is a theme The Wall Street Journal examined earlier this year to semi-amusing effect in a column written with as many emoji as columnist Joanna Stern could muster.
It’s clear emojis are now a part of our everyday speech even if we don’t use them out loud. Although I did overhear a conversation once that went something like this, “..and you know what she wrote back to me? Frowny face, broken heart, can you believe it?”
No. No, I most certainly cannot.
Despite the importance of the emoji, could there be a subtler, dare I say deeper, meaning to Oxford’s word of the year? A choice that Oxford Dictionaries says is meant to “reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”
Look again at ‘😂’. This emoji is meant to express such uncontrollable laughter that you begin to cry. It suggests an overabundance of emotion. Perhaps the kind of glee you’d take after the culmination of years of work?
Maybe 😂 suggests what we’ve feared all along. The Oxford 📚 word of the 📅 is turning into an epic, multi-📅 troll. In 2014, it was “vape” instead of “contactless” or “slacktivism”; before that “selfie” was chosen over “bitcoin” and “binge-watch,” and now 😂 is a more important reflection of language in 2015 than “Dark Web,” “sharing economy,” or “refugee.”
This annual tradition is getting a big 👎 in my 📕.