The era of a new language has truly arrived. This year, Oxford Dictionaries has named an emoji as its word of the year.
It’s a bold choice, but a rock-solid one linguistically. No single word has dominated 2015, as Collins’ recent choice of binge-watch for their word the year vividly demonstrates. Instead we are at the dawn of a new way of communicating, and the Oxford choice confirms this.
The trend has been obvious for the last 12 months. The Global Language Monitor started the ball rolling by picking an emoji as its word of 2014. Then earier this year, a linguist described emoji as the fastest evolving language of all time. And so this decision will catapult recognition of that growth into the mainstream.
Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, said: “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.” Amen to all of that.
For the record, the emoji which accepts the accolade on behalf of all its emoji brethren is 😂 – ‘Face with tears of joy’. According to mobile technology company Swiftkey, which partnered with Oxford to help decide on the winner, ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ was the most heavily used emoji globally in 2015. It comprised 20% of all emoji used in the UK in 2015, and 17% of all emoji used in the US.
This announcement will be greeted by criticism from some, derision from others. People will complain that it is not a word, will lament what is happening to our language, will somehow feel that Oxford Dictionaries itself is no longer the great arbiter it once was because it is making this decision. All utter nonsense, of course.
Instead, everyone should recognise that language is changing at a pace never before known, that a new lingua franca is emerging for the global, connected era in which we live, and that if hieroglyphs were good enough for the civilised ancient Egyptians, then using images to communicate with others should still be acceptable today. My linguistic tears of joy for this decision are all real.
Other shortlisted words:
ad blocker, noun:
A piece of software designed to prevent advertisements from appearing on a web page.
A term for the potential or hypothetical departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.
Dark Web, noun:
The part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable
a young urban man who cultivates an appearance and style of dress (typified by a beard and checked shirt) suggestive of a rugged outdoor lifestyle
on fleek, adjective (usually in phrase on fleek):
extremely good, attractive, or stylish
A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
sharing economy, noun:
An economic system in which assets or services are shared between private individuals, either free or for a fee, typically by means of the Internet.
they (singular), pronoun:
Used to refer to a person of unspecified sex.