Column: And the word of the year is … not a word

By Jordan Fischer

Western society has either begun its transcendence into a new digital age, or its descent into madness. I can’t tell. Either way, in a thousand years linguists will look back to now and identify 2015’s “Word of the Year” as the harbinger of what was to come.

Proving, perhaps, that a picture really is worth a thousand words, the Oxford Dictionaries has chosen for the first time ever a pictograph as their “Word of the Year.” Those are their words, and they gussy things up a bit. What they chose was an emoji – specifically the laughing-so-hard-I’m-crying “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji. (Refer to the nearest 14-year-old if you’re unfamiliar.)

According to Oxford Dictionaries and mobile technology business SwiftKey, the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji made up 20 percent of all the emojis used in the UK and 17 percent of those used in the U.S. They note it’s also seen heavy use from celebrities and brands, and made an appearance on the Vine that kicked off the “on fleek” meme … which I just hate.

Here’s Oxford’s reasoning in their own words:

“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. Even Hillary Clinton solicited feedback in the form of emojis, and (Face with Tears of Joy) has had notable use from celebrities and brands alongside everyone else – and even appeared as the caption to the Vine which apparently kicked off the popularity of the term on fleek, which appears on our WOTY shortlist.”

Before you lose all hope, the American Dialect Society chose singular “they” as their word of the year. That’s an excellent choice, and one that deserves (and will get) its own column. For my two cents, the word of the year, at least for Indiana, was “impinge” – as used, likely more than ever prior in the history of the word, by Gov. Mike Pence during the RFRA debate.

Are you OK with an emoji being the “Word of the Year?” Do you think there was a better choice? Let me know.

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