Why we’re all for “?” as Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year 2015

Yes, as in the actual emoji

Oxford Dictionaries have just announced their Word of the Year 2015, and hold onto your iPhones, because for the first time ever, it’s an emoji.

Not the word ’emoji’, but the actual emoji ?, otherwise known as ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ (or as we like to call it, the “Your-mum-texted-you-‘What is a whip nay nay? Is it an insult?'” emoji). Emojily-speaking, there were plenty of other strong contenders, but ? is a great choice. According to Oxford’s research, “SwiftKey identified that ? made up 20% of all the emojis used in the UK in 2015, and 17% of those in the US: a sharp rise from 4% and 9% respectively in 2014.” However, to point out the obvious, yes, the “word” of the year isn’t an actual word, at least in the traditional sense of the word “word,” and as you can imagine, people are getting ridiculously angry over this.

As an English major, you’d think I’d be offended that Oxford Dictionaries — that holiest of dictionarial institutions — chose “?” as their Word of the Year for 2015. But you know what? I’m not, and I think anyone who does is participating in some good old-fashioned academic snobbery. I’m glad Oxford recognises the fact that language is ever-changing. After all, that’s one of the most beautiful things about it. No one speaks in Old English anymore because time’s moved on, but that doesn’t mean we can’t equally appreciate both (and more) versions of the language. The argument that emojis aren’t “real” words is invalid, because words – ALL words – are invented by humans. If a face symbol is invalid, is a Japanese kanji? Of course not.

As much as some people would refuse to admit it, linguistic analyses have revealed that emojis are emerging as an entire language. When you think about it, the fact that we can accurately convey whole sentences via a single symbol is brilliant. Historically speaking, this isn’t a rarity – we’re all aware of hieroglyphics – but research shows that emojis have already eclipsed those in terms of growth and usage to become “the fastest growing form of language in history.” And yet people are still trying to argue that this form of communication is somehow ‘lesser.’ Sure, you can’t write sonnets in it, but you can get across entire film plots in under 10 characters. Different systems, different uses.

If you’re still angry, here’s a list of the other shortlisted candidates for WOTY, including “lumbersexual” (I wish I were making this up):

Image © Oxford Dictionaries

There’s also a poll on the site that allows you to vote for what you think should’ve been the WOTY. As public opinion seems to echo, “refugee” is probably the only other acceptable option.

Image © Oxford Dictionaries

Would you really rather have future generations view 2015 as the year of “ad blocker?” Last year’s was “vape.” I think we can all agree this is less egregious.

While the WOTY is often considered a publicity stunt (in fact, Kat Hannaford wrote something similar on Gadgette earlier this year), it’s still a long-standing and relevant tradition that’s carried out with careful thought. It doesn’t change the world, but people do pay attention to it.

When we consider recent events, and some of the sadder things we’ve seen this year, we think it’s quite lovely that the word of the year is a positive, happy, over-flowing-with-joy human face. It doesn’t change any of the tragedies that marred 2015, but it does help us remember the happier times. And that’s no bad thing.


Main Image © Oxford Dictionaries