Question : When is a word not a word?
Answer : When it’s a pictograph.
This is not a joke and it makes the Oxford English Dictionary’s decision to name the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji as this year’s word of the year a very odd one indeed.
A more logical move would have been to give the title to ’emoji’ , a word borrowed from Japanese to denote ‘a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication’.
The key word in this definition is ‘image‘. Unless Oxford University Press (OUP) have plans to turn their dictionary into a picture book it’s hard to fully understand the reasoning behind this.
Casper Grothwahl, the President of the Dictionaries Division highlights that these staples of teen texting culture have now entered the mainstream and therefore that there was a need to acknowledge what he calls this “obsessively immediate” form of communication.
More and more reference books now exist primarily in a digital format with embedded videos and suchlike. This obviously reflects the way we consume information but a distinction should still be made between language we use (i.e. words) and their visual equivalents.
Oxford Dictionary wants to be seen as an up to date resource rather than as a dusty repository of dead or dying language but I think they’ve made a dumb call here.