For the first time ever, Oxford Dictionaries has chosen an emoji as its word of the year.
The “face with tears of joy” emoji is the pictograph in question and the controversial decision has ignited a firestorm among bloggers over what constitutes a word.
“It’s not as though anyone is likely to use OxfordDictionaries.com to look up the spelling of ‘face with tears of joy,’” said Chicago Tribune contact reporter Phil Rosenthal. “Maybe it can stick the little guy as a synonym for ‘joy’ in its thesaurus.”
“Emojis are no longer the preserve of texting teens—instead, they have been embraced as a nuanced form of expression, and one which can cross language barriers,” reads an official blog post on the Oxford Dictionaries website. “There were other strong contenders from a range of fields, but [“face with tears of joy” emoji] was chosen as the ‘word’ that best reflected the ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2015.”
Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year is chosen by a team of lexicographers and consultants who seek to capture the essence of the year’s biggest trends and cultural developments. Last year, “vape” was chosen. The year before, “selfie” won.
This year, Oxford University Press decided an emoji would best capture that essence.
Oxford University Press partnered with mobile technology business leader and emoji keyboard developer SwiftKey in order to identify the most used emoji in 2015 by exploring frequency and usage statistics of popular emojis around the world. The “face with tears of joy” emoji, which was first introduced in 2010, made up 17 percent of all emojis used in the U.S. and 20 percent of those used in the U.K.
As emojis become more popular and prevalent, unprecedented problems arose regarding their usage. In the past few years, one such problem has involved the frequently contested meaning of emojis as court evidence.
“Emojis can help to reveal the emotion intended behind a text,” said sophomore criminal justice major Ariel Clayton. “However, if [they] were to be used as evidence in court, I believe other supporting evidence needs to be used as well. While emojis do express different meanings and ideas, they are pictures—not words.”
Varied usage in criminal and civil matters has included telling the complete story, as in the case of United States v. Ulbricht, garnering sympathy, as in the case of State of New York v. Spears, suggesting jest, as in the case of Elonis v. United States and to convict, as in the case of State of New York v. Aristy.
In the case of United States v. Ulbricht, judge Katherine Forrest agreed with Ulbricht’s attorney that the jury should be allowed to read for themselves all online communications entered into evidence.
“They are meant to be read,” Forrest said. “The jury should note the punctuation and emoticons.”
Although Ulbricht was eventually convicted of the seven counts with which he was charged, Forrest’s decision brings to light the complicated new role pictographs have taken in society.