28 October 2016
Six billion emojis are sent every day, of which the “face with tears of joy” is the most used. Photo: Oxford Dictionaries
Six billion emojis are sent every day, of which the “face with tears of joy” is the most used. Photo: Oxford Dictionaries

Oxford dictionary word of the year isn’t a word

For the first time ever, the Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year isn’t a word as it can’t be spelled or pronounced. 

It’s a pictograph, or more popularly known as emoji. It’s officially called the “Face with Tears of Joy”.

The Guardian described it as “a pair of eyes, big gloopy tears and a broad grin”.

What does it mean? Oxford doesn’t explain, but it can be used in a variety of instances, such as when you receive a compliment or a heartfelt message on social media, or when you want to thank or congratulate someone, or upon receiving good news or sending good tidings.

Caspar Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, provides an insider’s view into the discussions that led to the choice of the word of the year.

“We just thought, when you look back at the year in language, one of the most striking things was that, in terms of written communication, the most ascendant aspect of it wasn’t a word at all, it was emoji culture,” the Guardian quoted Grathwohl as saying.

Even US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton joined the emoji bandwagon by asking students to tell her how they felt about their loans “in three emojis or less”.

The new language has also invaded literature. Someone has translated Moby Dick into emojis and renamed it Emoji Dick. Similarly, Alice in Wonderland can be read in 250,000 emojis.

“The fact that English alone is proving insufficient to meet the needs of 21st-century digital communication is a huge shift,” Grathwohl observes.

Oxford’s decision shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to the newspaper, some 76 percent of the adult population in Britain own a smartphone, which is used to send emojis. Of those smartphone owners, about 80-90 percent use emojis.

Globally, six billion emojis are sent every day.

The “face with tears of joy” is the most used, representing 20 percent in Britain and 17 percent in the United States.

Real words, most of them new, have also made it to Oxford’s Word of the Year shortlist:

Sharing economy: An economic system in which assets or services are shared between private individuals, either for free or for a fee, typically by means of the internet.

They: Used to refer to a person of unspecified sex.

On fleek: Extremely good, attractive or stylish.

Ad blocker: A piece of software designed to prevent advertisements from appearing on a web page.

Refugee: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.

Brexit: A term for the potential or hypothetical departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Dark Web: The part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous. 

Lumbersexual: A young urban man who cultivates an appearance and style of dress (typified by a beard and check shirt) suggestive of a rugged outdoor lifestyle.

What would it look like if you used emojis in real life? Watch the Oxford video:

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