While I was on the treadmill this morning, I watched a local newscaster shake his head in disgust about Oxford Dictionaries word of the year for 2015: 😂. This emoji is called “face with tears of joy,” but you wouldn’t know that just by looking at it. Add the fact that it’s not made with letters like other English words and it is pretty easy to tell why it makes many people uncomfortable to call 😂a word.
And that was the point, right? Outrage gets traction.
When it comes to getting people stirred up, Oxford’s runners up didn’t come close to the humble emoji.
The reason many people don’t think of emojis as words hinges on the difference between phonograms and ideograms. A phonogram is a group of letters associated with a sound. An ideogram is a symbol associated with a meaning. Words, as we commonly think of them, consist of phonograms and are therefore pronounceable. In contrast, ideograms are intelligible but not pronounceable. They are titled like paintings or road signs. Since written languages are modelled after the spoken word, it is sensible that we prefer pronounceable symbols.
But this distinction takes us down the wrong path.
It makes more sense to look at emojis as an emergent logographic system than it does to see them as mere ideograms or pictograms. Logographic systems are writing systems in which each symbol represents an idea rather than a sound, which is pretty much the definition of emoji.
Considering the amount of time we spend in front of screens today and the difficulty of communicating tone and mood through short textual communications, it is fitting that emoji have been developed to solve this gap in our communicative abilities.
Each emoji is individual, has its own name and meaning, and is mutually understandable to people in the same language group. That sounds like a word to me!
Emojis are becoming more and more prevalent in online communication. From emails to Twitter to Slack to our very own Wordset chat, it is impossible to escape them. There are, however, some for whom this form of communication trivializes the dignity of the written word. These folks would rather nuke emojis than promote them or 😧use them. To them I would say that it is all about context. If one is trying to convey scientific fact or even a convincing political argument, peppering one’s writing with emojis will tend to lessen one’s credibility. Nevertheless, in informal hotly typed communications they can speed things up and help to convey the proper mood like nothing heretofore.
Hampton recently revamped our backend to account for emojis 😄. So now you are free to add them to Wordset, define them, and give example uses. Doing so will be an advantage to those who have been reluctant to use emojis for fear of misunderstanding and help to create more standardized meanings and contexts for future use.
Help us emoji experts, you’re our only hope!