Not happy with tears of joy, Jan

Get comfortable. Find a chair. Or else you may crumple with shock. Scream and howl and feel very !! And fair enough, since this year's word of the year, as selected by Oxford Dictionaries, isn't even a word. Rather it's the opposite of . By which I mean , alias the face with tears of joy. Pedants call it the end of days.

Sacrilege, you say. Welcome the new dystopia. Or that's a common outcry, but let's put this pictograph in context. Firstly, the Oxford Dictionaries is not the same as the Oxford Dictionary. The former is a modern offshoot of the latter, a brattier online presence sustained by the mother ship. This upstart startup is prepared to countenance lumbersexual and Grexit, not to mention a certain little countenance.

'Laughing face with tears of joy' emoji named Word of the Year
'Laughing face with tears of joy' emoji named Word of the Year 

Second qualifier: if the supermarket carols aren't portent enough, then silly season is nigh. More and more dictionaries seek Yuletide press by announcing some neologism on a slow news day. (Last year Macquarie plumped for mansplain, while Chambers feted overshare.) By the same token, a few weeks back, Collins Dictionary nominated binge-watch as its 2015 darling, yet that barely registered a yelp. Unlike one jubilant emoji: a patent ploy to raise eyebrows.

Clickbait, in other words. A red rag for purists. Other lexicons have previous form in this regard, with the American Dialect Society opting for #blacklivesmatter in 2014, eclipsing other orthodox candidates. Just as the Global Language Monitor crowned the in the same year, a successor to its controversial error code of 404 in 2013.

See the trend? Just like the catwalk's fetish for outré, this word-of-the-year caper is devoted to making heads turn. "LOL," says in 2015. "Made you look!"

That said, the happy face is not all gimmick. Emojis are emerging as the fastest spreading language of our era, a universal traffic of feels and other stuff. Where hieroglyphs (literally sacred symbols) were reserved for the Egyptian elite, the 800-plus symbols on your smartphones are geared for U and me.


Shigetaka Kurita, a Tokyo-based designer, updated the emoticon family in 1998. (Emoji arises from Japanese meaning picture-character. His palette was inspired by the shorthand of manga icons.) Since then the uptake has been meteoric. Democrat nominee Hilary Clinton uses them to connect to millennials, as does our own Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop. While in coming months some 50,000 subscribers are poised to engage in rune-speak on an all-emoji site called Emojli.

Yet can emojis aspire to being a language proper? SwiftKey, the leading mobile tech-company, has seen the spike worldwide, but so far the and grumpy show little sign of developing their own grammar. Instead the emoji is as much a tonal marker, a winky face to confirm your complicity, a thumbs-up symbol to lessen the risk of sark.

SwiftKey is the same mob to monitor the regional variations in emoji use. Happy face with tears of joy is the clear leader, comprising a fifth of symbols used in the UK alone, hence this latest Oxford sash. Meanwhile in the Arabic world, flowers are the go-to emojis, in contrast to Australians who the emblems for drink, drugs and junk food. And if they made you then congratulations. Your face just qualified as this year's word of the year.

David Astle's latest book is Wordburger: How To Be A Champion Puzzler In 20 Quick Bites. (Allen & Unwin)

Twitter @dontattempt

1 comment