From looking up words to settle family disputes over Scrabble tiles, to checking the real definition of a word you really hope you’ve used correctly in every paragraph of your university assignment, the Oxford Dictionary has always been a solid block of authority and undeniable knowledge, squirreled away in the corners of every household. In any debate, it becomes the source of cold, hard proof.
If it were a person, it would be that smarmy uncle who only deigns to make contact to let you know that you made a grammatical error in your most recent Facebook status. The guy who can’t let a conversation pass without finding some fault to call someone out on – because he got his degree back when degrees actually meant something, don’t you know?
So to find out that the Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘Word of the Year’ is the ‘crying with laughter’ emoji is somewhat like finding out that smarmy uncle has hit his mid-life crisis and bought one of those hoverboards to seem “down with the kids” – it’s jarring, and frankly, a little embarrassing. But should it really be surprising or, as some people have gone as far to claim, an outrage?
Emojis have been in use since the 1990s, but it wasn’t until recently that they started to really take off – from 2014 into 2015 alone there was a massive jump as the usage of the word ‘emoji’ tripled. With businesses and even politicians such as Hilary Clinton using emojis in order to connect to a younger audience, it’s hardly surprising that Oxford Dictionaries should wish to acknowledge the linguistic advancements these emojis have affected upon our lives.
Because they have advanced the way we use language. While textual communication – particularly instant messaging – has always led to misunderstandings due to its inability to convey tone or sarcasm, the great range of new emojis allow the user to convey a representation of the emotion they wish to accompany their message.
“Have fun :)” for example, holds a very different message to “Have fun :/” (in the case of receiving the second, do not have fun, do not pass go, do not collect $200).
Emojis are allowing the nature of textual communication to evolve in a way that allows greater understanding between users. Even seemingly needless emojis, such as the eggplant, have found their own…unique representations. So with all that the medium has given to the nature of communication, and its sudden rise in usage and culture, is it really surprising that an emoji should become Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘Word of the Year’?
Well, yes, I guess it still sort of is. After all, it’s not a word.
But as they say, a picture paints a thousand words. As cringey as it may seem to have such an official documenter of words try to prove they’re hip and “with the times”, if this is what it takes for the emoji-haters to finally pay some attention to the communicative importance of those little icons, I can handle that.
‘Peace symbol’ emoji to you all.