The Oxford Word Of The Year is always silly. We laugh at it (Vape.) and mourn something lost and gained in society (Selfie.) and eventually forget that we even were saying the word to begin with (Hypermiling.). The word selected for 2015 is less of a statement of use but of a collective consciousness. It’s where our world’s head is.
Announced yesterday, the “word” is both underwhelming and overwhelming. It’s an emoji. “Face With Tears Of Joy,” they say. “Ridiculous” is the first word that comes to mind. Not so fast, though: it’s actually quite an impressive pick considering they didn’t choose the more banal and definitive word “emoji.”
The symbol chosen—Not a word but a pictograph.—is an expression of new languages and the shift from letters to a hybrid of audio visuals for speaking, things that defy nationality and get at base level human understanding. Emojis are little cave paintings from our phones. They need no explanation nor context. A smile is a smile is a smile. A pencil is a pencil is a pencil. An eggplant is an eggplant is an eggplant.
That’s only so interesting, though. What’s interesting is that they didn’t pick a smiling face. The face is instead laughing and crying. It’s comedic and tragic. Announced on the Monday after brutal attacks on people and places representative of contemporary life, the decision to pick this emoji is painfully bittersweet. It represents a willing loss of language, yes, but the gaining of something else, a duality. It sums up our existence now, in technologic happiness and human despair. It’s crying while laughing or laughing while crying. It’s the in between space of a win and a loss, between genders, between living and dying. It’s sharp.
This is a very wise selection from Oxford. Yes, “they” would have been a queer win but the word isn’t as universal. “Lumbersexual” is too trendy and silly. “On fleek” is too young yet dated. “Sharing economy” is too entitled. “Refugee” is too real and political. An emoji? It represents all these words and more.
The word of the year is always laughed at but I always find it very impressive and painful and powerful. The word is always something that looks forward as it looks backwards and this pictograph of happy sadness / sad happiness couldn’t capture the international conscious more.