Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015
I had a hard time explaining to my boyfriend by text what Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year was this year. He kept asking me why I was only sending emojis. I had an even harder time explaining that the word of the year isn’t so much a word as it is a pictogram.
Its official name is the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji and according to Oxford Dictionaries, it “best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.” This incited a lot of outrage from the internet. Considering that last year’s word was “vape,” it’s hard not to assume that Oxford Dictionaries is just trying to come across as hip, happening and with it, yo. 😎
Can you blame them for trying? After 150 years, looking at dictionaries has got to get old. While Oxford Dictionaries might view this as embracing technology and innovation, many see it as a lame attempt to stay relevant. In extreme cases, it’s been cited as the death of the English language. But let’s take a minute to attempt to rationalize why Oxford Dictionaries would choose an emoji over a shortlist of other actual words.
Before deciding if “Face with Tears of Joy” is an acceptable word of the year, we have to ask what actually constitutes a word? According to Oxford Dictionaries, a word is “a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.” You could argue that they’re not “meaningful” but what are emojis if not tools to help convey meaning? Though I’m not sure about being able to use an emoji to form a sentence.
I found it odd that the definition of a word didn’t include letters. Seems like an obvious feature of a word. Although, emojis are technically made up of letters if you’re thinking in terms of Unicode. This emoji in particular is U+1F602. And the word “emoji” actually stems from the Japanese “e” for “picture” and “moji” for “letter.”
But there is something suspect about choosing a “word” that isn’t even in the dictionary, nor are they planning on adding emojis to the dictionary 😕 If this was the route Oxford Dictionaries wanted to take, why not just choose the word “emoji”? Their own blog post details the use of “emoji” to demonstrate the relevance of this year’s winner. Emoji makes way more sense as a word. Sure, people still would have grabbed their torches and pitchforks over it, but at least it’s a recognizable word composed of actual letters.
I do like that an emoji was chosen because “they have been embraced as a nuanced form of expression, and one which can cross language barriers.” And whether you like it or not, emojis are part of our language, and it is the dictionary’s job to keep track of said language. The English you’re speaking right now isn’t the English that was being spoken a thousand years ago (the Oxford English Dictionary has kept track of that too). Language is fluid. It has to be, or it becomes irrelevant and dies.
As a professional writing student, my biggest fear is that people will stop reading. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t concern me that an entity whose business is words opted for a picture instead. If people don’t have interest in the written word, they won’t have an interest in my skillset. 😨 And then what am I good for? But I also can’t be a writer if the English language hits a wall. The world is constantly changing, and if I don’t have the tools to describe those changes, whether they be in words or emojis, my skillset is again rendered irrelevant.
Do I agree with the choice? No. But making the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji the word of the year doesn’t make it better than your other favourite words, or even your favourite emojis (sweet potato emoji doesn’t get enough love). It also doesn’t mean you should leave Earth to live on some other planet. Space travel seems kind of expensive 💸, and how silly would you feel if you ended up some place where they only spoke in emojis? Better not risk it.
Check out Holly’s work on contently.com.