What should we make of Oxford Dictionaries choosing the “face with tears of joy” emoji as its “word” of the year?
I’ve been in the business long enough to know that this sort of announcement is basically a bid for attention -- and what’s more attention-grabbing than a dictionary publisher recognizing emojis as words?
That said, it’s clear that consumer technology is dramatically changing the way we communicate, and the languages we use to do it. Increasingly, we demand that language be short, snappy and -- because it’s competing against so much other information -- attention-grabbing. That’s essentially the job description of an emoji.
“You can see how traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st century communication,” says Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries. “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.”
But why make the “face with tears of joy” emoji number one?
In another sign of the times, Oxford University Press said it simply picked a winner based on popularity. Partnering with mobile technology firm SwiftKey to explore frequency and usage statistics of the more-popular emojis, Oxford chose the face with happy tears because it was the most used emoji globally, this year.
In case you’re interested, the happy-tears face made up 20% of all the emojis used in the U.K. in 2015, and 17% of those in the U.S., SwiftKey found.
Not surprisingly, the word “emoji” has seen a similar surge. Found in the English language since 1997, its usage more than tripled in 2015 over the previous year, according to data from the Oxford Dictionaries Corpus.