Emoji lovers around the world have seen many victories this year, from skin tone updates to taco inclusion, but perhaps the greatest victory came today, as Oxford Dictionaries announced that its word of the year for 2015 isn't a word at all, but an emoji. In particular, this one:
Oxford Dictionary worked with Swiftkey, the same keyboard app that brought us the infamous "America loves the eggplant emoji" study, to survey the use of emoji across the globe to arrive at the most popular pictograph, and 😂 was the clear winner. Here in the U.S., 😂 accounts for a whopping 17% of all Swiftkey emoji usage, leaving the second place winner, 😘, which only grabbed 9% of the pie, in the dust 💨.
Our humble little emoji didn't just beat out other pictographs for the title. The shortlist for the WOTY included some other worthy competitors, including "on fleek" and "they" as a singular pronoun.
Although I have some reservations about referring to an emoji as a "word," I'm thrilled to see institutions recognizing emoji as an emerging language. Not only is 😂 an obvious choice because of its popularity, but it also makes a lot of sense when you consider what emoji excel at: infusing emotion. In the press release today, Oxford Dictionaries president Casper Grathwohl 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.”
I've written before about how I see emoji as bigger than their descriptive unicode titles; emoji meaning can evolve with use, changing over time and across cultural borders. For this reason, traditional dictionary definitions can be problematic, because emoji derive much of their meaning from context. So I was curious to know what the Oxford definition of 😂 would be.
However, to my surprise and delight, there was no definition offered at all. In fact, according to the company, there are no plans to add emoji to the Oxford Dictionary. Instead we are all left to 😂 over the fact that we, the emoji-loving public, have finally 🏆 a place in the history 📚.
Cara Rose DeFabio is a pop addicted, emoji fluent, transmedia artist, focusing on live events as an experience designer for Real Future.