The ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji has been named as the Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2015, joining previous winners such as ‘vape’, ‘selfie’, big society’, ‘simples’, ‘bovvered’, and ‘chav’. Whilst the Daily Telegraph led its coverage with the line ‘RIP language?’ the award is an interesting reflection of our changing communication habits, as well as a poignant reflection of society in 2015. Casting one’s eyes back over the previous winners offers an amusing insight into cultural trends, even if some are more fleeting than others.
Beyond the snapshot of 2015, the award raises interesting questions in a number of fields. Linguists may want to discuss whether or not the emoji really constitutes a word. As a discrete and combinable written element that conveys semantic meaning, there is a strong linguistic argument in the emoji’s favour. However, examining the theory of Ferdinand de Saussure – a prominent figure in Linguistics – might provide a strong counter argument. Historians may want to reflect upon what historical value these awards hold: when we look back on 2004, and see ‘chav’ as that year’s winner, what does that say about popular public opinion at the time? Finally, Computer Scientists may argue that emoji are here to stay, as British technology firm Intelligent Environments have developed the first emoji-only passcode. In this case, the question is one of security: can emoji-only passcodes be more secure than their numerical counterparts?