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Home The Newsmakers EMOJI: THE WORD OF 2015!


Afsana Khan
Photo: Oxford University Press

The Oxford Dictionaries announced the 2015 'Word of the Year' on 16 November and it is…not a word! It is in fact an emoji, more specifically the "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji. If this was Oxford’s idea of a joke, well they’ve definitely managed to make a fool out of themselves. 

This selection is the first time ever that a ‘pictograph’ has been selected as the word of the year. Oxford’s definition of a pictograph: "a pictorial symbol for a word or phrase." Now let’s take a look at what qualifies a word/phrase, or in this case, whether pictograph is qualified to be selected as a word in the first place.

According to its website, “The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a word or expression that we can see has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. Every year, candidates for Word of the Year are debated and one is eventually chosen that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”

And on explaining the choice for 2015, “This year, instead of choosing a traditional word or expression, Oxford Dictionaries has chosen an example of this type of pictographic script to represent the sharp increase in popularity of emoji across the world in 2015.”

The "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji can only claim one of the criteria of having been one of the most used emoji the past year. Leading mobile technology business SwiftKey’s research, partnered with Oxford, found that ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ was the most heavily used emoji globally in 2015. Their research shows that the character comprised 20% of all emoji used in the UK, and 17% in the US in 2015.

Photo: Oxford University Press

However, how this emoji reflects or signifies anything regarding the events or trends of the year of 2015 is beyond everyone’s but Oxford’s comprehension. Other words/phrases that made it to the shortlist were ad blocker, Brexit, Dark Web, on fleek, lumbersexual, refugee, sharing economy, they (singular). Let’s face it, any one of these words says more about the year 2015 than the emoji!

The word of the year for 2014 was ‘vape’. The selection of vape as the word of the year signified the sudden increase in the use of e-cigarettes in 2014. It was also one of the most used words of the year. 

The year before that, it was selfie. Every year since 2004, Oxford Dictionaries has selected an official word of the year which, according to one of its press releases is “a word or expression chosen to reflect the passing year in language.” How an emoji does that is quite unclear.

So Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, is quoted explaining exactly that, in the press release“You can see how traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st century communication. It’s not surprising that a pictographic script like emoji has stepped in to fill those gaps—it’s flexible, immediate, and infuses tone beautifully. As a result emoji are becoming an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders.”

That explains that, maybe they should start a separate “Emoji of the Year” initiative exclusively for pictographs!


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