2015 Word of the Year is... not a word

Emoticon with tears of joy - Illustration.jpg

Oxford Dictionaries' annual announcement of its Word of the Year is an event that can provoke keen interest among word lovers.

But in 2015, the company may have taken things a step too far for many of its audience members: this year's winner isn't technically a word. It's an emoji.

Officially called the 'Face with Tears of Joy' emoji, the pictograph was chosen by Oxford Dictionaries as the term that 'best reflected the ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2015'. 

But the decision caused dismay for many of the commenters on the Oxford Dictionaries website, whose feedback ranged from 'A smiley face is NOT A WORD' to 'It's a sad state of affairs when one of the best dictionaries in the world lowers its standard and defeats its own purpose by making an emoji a "Word of the Year"'.

However, some readers supported the decision, seeing it as proof of the evolution of language. 'OED is a descriptive dictionary, not a prescriptive one,' argued one commenter. 'That means that they track language as it's being used.'

'It seems clear that these words are not chosen for their importance or relative brilliance in the grand scheme of things, but for their commonality; they are what people are interested in,' said another. 'I think that Oxford is just the messenger, and why should we kill the messenger?'

This year's losers

The emoji beat several other shortlisted contenders, including the terms 'sharing economy', 'ad blocker' and 'Dark Web'.

Also on the shortlist was the word 'lumbersexual' – a term used to describe a 'young urban man who cultivates an appearance and style of dress (typified by a beard and check shirt) suggestive of a rugged outdoor lifestyle'. (Or, as they're more commonly known, 'hipsters').

Other new entries included the term 'on fleek' – used to mean 'extremely good, attractive, or stylish' – and the word 'Brexit', a shortening of the words 'British' and 'exit', referring to the potential or hypothetical departure of the UK from the European Union, according to the dictionary.

Most used in 2015

The 'Face with Tears of Joy' emoji was apparently the most used emoji globally in 2015. Research from technology business SwiftKey found that it made up one in five of all emojis used in the UK in 2015, and 17% of those used in the US. 

Interestingly, the word emoji was itself used a lot more in 2015; Oxford Dictionaries reckons it was used three times as often in 2015 as in the previous year.

But for many readers, this year's decision may be better represented by a ‘sad face’ emoji than one with tears of joy.

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