The word of 2015 isn’t a word; it’s a pictograph

An emoji rather than an actual word was named the Oxford Dictionary’s 2015 word of the year.

Not familiar with emojis? According to the Oxford Dictionary, an emoji is “a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication.” (Think of the image of a “smiley face” or a “thumbs up.”) The emoji which won the honor is one showing a face smiling with tears of joy.

emoji smiling face with tears of joy

With so much of our written communication being done digitally or online, perhaps it is fitting that a pictograph should be named English word of the year. An emoji can cross cultures and languages. After all, a smile is a smile in any language.

According to the Oxford Dictionary, the use of emojis is gaining. I thought they were limited to the smiley face and the frowning face, so a face smiling with tears of joy comes as a surprise to me. But so do dozens of emojis I recently discovered on my iPhone. When I key a message, at the bottom of the screen is a small, yellow smiling face. When pressed, it brings up a screen with dozens of emojis, including a face smiling with a tear.

Pictographs are nothing new in writing. Think of the now famous ad campaign for New York: I (symbol of a heart) NY. But they have spread in recent years thanks to electronics. Think of the icons we use. When we want to find something, we touch a magnifying glass. When we want to print, we press the icon of a printer.

Our children are already using emojis, so if we want to monitor their electronic communications, or if we want to become up-to-date with digital communication, we should ecome familiar with emojis: what ones are on our kids’ and our own phones, what emoji keyboards are available for downloading as apps, and how emojis are best used.

Think of emojis as a language in which everyone will be writing soon. If we want to be part of the conversation, we need to become fluent. Where do we begin? More about that in my next blog.

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