Lexicon Valley

This Year’s Word of the Year Isn’t Even a Word 😂😂😂

The Oxford Dictionaries “Word” of the Year 2015 has landed. It’s 😂, aka face with tears of joy, already weeping with relief at its victory. (I suppose we asked for this.) Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, explains the choice, which set off revels in emojiland: “Traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st Century communication.  It’s not surprising that a pictographic script like emoji has stepped in to fill those gaps—it’s flexible, immediate, and infuses tone beautifully.” That said, according to the press release, “there are no plans to add emoji to any Oxford Dictionaries.”

TJ—let’s call him TJ—is the most commonly used emoji on Earth. In 2015, he constituted 20 percent of all deployed emojis in the U.K., and 17 percent in the U.S. This can’t be chalked wholly up to the little guy’s semantic utility, though: He gets a popularity boost from the tendency of some users to clone him and string him into conga lines.

Though TJ’s official task seems to be to convey uncomplicated happiness, interpretations vary. Sometimes he expresses a brief “ha,” with multiple TJs intensifying the amusement. In other contexts he indicates the snarky state of laughing so hard you cry. (Nicki Minaj is a genius practitioner of the “tears of derision” kiss-off on Twitter, linking multiple TJs together in a daisy chain of scorn.) I’ve used a line of TJs to convey that I’m choosing to crack up rather than weep—the signs become a philosophical statement about the proximity of extreme joy and extreme pain.

Which makes 😂 the right linguistic incarnation of yet another complicated year, not to mention a good commentary on the very act of choosing a word of the year. What does it mean? Is it good or bad? It depends! With his intense and inscrutable emotional lability, TJ is less of a word and more of an invitation to invent some sort of meaning. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, but in the end you might just ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.