Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year isn’t a word at all

The Oxford Word of the Year is always right on the pulse of culture, and often speaks to greater trends in how we communicate. Last year’s WOTY was vape, an appropriate fit for 2014’s focus on technology and health; and 2013’s was selfie, a perfect comment on the rise of social media and how we share ourselves with the world.

It makes sense, then, that Oxford would continue with this trend in 2015; and they have — but as it turns out, their pick actually isn’t a word at all. On Monday, Oxford University Press, in partnership with SwiftKey, announced that 2015’s Word of the Year is the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji.

That’s right: An emoji has won the Word of the Year, and that’s kind of a huge deal. It’s no secret that emojis have totally taken over how we communicate in recent years, and have quickly become one of the fastest growing “languages” in modern times. The “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji might be a controversial choice — again, it technically isn’t a word — but honoring the little pictographs just further acknowledges how great of an impact they’ve had on all of us.

“Every year, the Oxford Dictionaries team reviews candidates for word of the year and then debates their merits, eventually choosing one that captures the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year,” the company said in a press release. “This year, instead of choosing a traditional word, Oxford Dictionaries has chosen a pictograph, the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji, to reflect the sharp increase in popularity of emoji across the world in 2015.”

“Although emoji have been a staple of texting teens for some time, emoji culture exploded into the global mainstream over the past year,” the press release continued. “Whether it was Hillary Clinton soliciting feedback in emoji or on-going debates about the skin tone of smiley faces, emoji have come to embody a core aspect of living in a digital world that is visually driven, emotionally expressive, and obsessively immediate.”

The decision came with tons of research to back it up. According to Swiftkey, a UK-based keyboard app, the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji was by far the most frequently used in 2015, and made up 20% of emoji usage in the UK and 17% of emoji usage in the US. (A significant jump from last year’s 4% and 9%, respectively.) According to a report from Facebook earlier this year, emojis are also affecting modern Internet slang — quickly replacing terms like “lol.”

“Image-based, rich-content communicating with [emojis], in addition to standard words, is something that is really not going anywhere anytime soon,” Jennifer Kutz, Swiftkey’s US Head of Communications, told HelloGiggles. “It’s something that’s made a dramatic impact really fast. I mean, 70% of our users report using emojis, at least every now and then, but for most people, it’s very often.”

“One of the reasons could be that words just inherently have limitations. We’ve all had a text be misinterpreted, or misinterpreted an email because the nuance or the context just wasn’t there. This is really filling a need that we all sort of had,” she continued. “Humans are complex, and we all have really nuanced emotions. . . It can be harder to [communicate] that with words, and being that we’re all very digital, emoji has allowed us to really enhance the way we communicate in an easy way.”

It’s worth nothing that, while “emoji” has been in the Oxford English Dictionary since 2013, no specific emoji — including the Word of the Year — has an official definition. Nonetheless, for a pictograph, we think this year’s winner speaks volumes.

If you’re still searching for something a little more traditional, check out the short-list for 2015’s Word of the Year below.

ad blocker, noun: A piece of software designed to prevent advertisements from appearing on a web page.

Brexit, noun: A term for the potential or hypothetical departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union.

Dark Web, noun: The part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable

lumbersexual, noun: a young urban man who cultivates an appearance and style of dress (typified by a beard and checked shirt) suggestive of a rugged outdoor lifestyle

on fleek, adjective: extremely good, attractive, or stylish

refugee, noun: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster

sharing economy, noun: An economic system in which assets or services are shared between private individuals, either free or for a fee, typically by means of the Internet.

they (singular), pronoun: Used to refer to a person of unspecified sex.

(Images via Swiftkey.)

FYI: These are the top emojis being used around the world

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