Column: When the best word stares us right in the face
The news that everyone has been waiting for finally broke the headlines on Nov. 16: Oxford Dictionaries revealed its prestigious “Word of the Year” award.
This year’s winner really was a dark horse among the other lexicon-based candidates since it isn’t actually a word. Somewhat unpredictably, the publisher bestowed the title to an emoji.
The group officially selected “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji as the winner, beating out contenders such as “on fleek,” “refugee,” “Brexit” and “lumbersexual.”
While it may not be a word in the dictionary, the pictograph captures the zeitgeist of modern communication according to the Oxford Dictionaries blog.
“There were other strong contenders from a range of fields,” the publisher said, “but [‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji] was chosen as the ‘word’ that best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.”
In fact, mobile technology business SwiftKey acknowledged that the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji was the most popular emoji around the world in 2015.
It comprised 20% of all the emojis used in the UK in 2015 and 17% of those in the US. These figures were a sharp rise from the relatively meager 4% and 9%, respectively, the year before.
It’s this exact reason why the choice has received a mix of favor and criticism. The emoji is either the perfect choice to summarize a new generation of language or the epitome of the evils of constant text conversations.
However, in a world under the Tower of Babel’s shadow, an emoji might be reminiscent of the unanimous vernacular that once united us all.
Perhaps the criticism stems from the simplicity of the emoji. Who would want a more succinct way of expressing laughter so intense tears well up when “the juncture of cachinnations and lachryma while exultant” is a perfectly good phrase for a 140-character message?
The precision of the symbol is actually its strength.
In the Affect Theory of Emotions, psychologist Silvan Tomkins suggested that there are biological patterns of expression to nine different emotions.
Paul Ekman helped synthesize the Universality Hypothesis of Human Facial Expressions, making him an indirect expert on emojis. Ekman expanded upon this idea even further.
Despite the culture of an individual, people can read the emotions seen on someone else’s face with consistent accuracy.
Charles Darwin also espoused this theory decades earlier than Tomkins or Ekman. In conjunction with evolution, the emoji is, theoretically, a step toward a multicultural, universal language.
While the Oxford Dictionaries’ choice of an emoji as the word of the year may have just been a publicity stunt, it is nonetheless controversial and thought provoking.
At the very least, it’s sure to make everyone who sees it :-).
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