A picture is worth a thousand words, as the old saying goes. But in today’s fast-paced world, there is less patience for an entire, fully-developed image. Facebook, Twitter, your smartphone et al. demand something pithier.
Something not much bigger in size than a letter of the alphabet, but imbued with far more meaning.
Something that transcends language — emotion, even — as we know it.
In 1999, Japanese mobile designer Shigetaka Kurita gave the world a gift it continues to reap in small, easily-digestible packages. He is, in short, the father of the emoji.
Kurita designed the very first emoji for cellphones, a package of 180 diverse pixelated symbols, in just one month. Since then, emoji use has risen steadily, becoming a bedrock of text conversations and, more generally, of most online interfaces. Nowadays, it’s difficult to imagine a scintillating digital exchange that lacks a “heart” or innuendo-laden “eggplant.”
Oxford Dictionaries has recognized the influential and complex function of emoji by giving one of the symbols its highest honor. For the first time in Oxford’s history, the Word of the Year is a pictograph.
Officially, 2015’s linguistic champion is known as the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji. Oxford Dictionaries announced in a statement Monday: “There were other strong contenders from a range of fields…but [Face with Tears of Joy] was chosen as the ‘word’ that best reflected the ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2015.”
Oxford noted that 2015 has seen a sizable increase in the use of the word “emoji,” and statistics on frequency and usage from mobile technology business SwiftKey found that Face with Tears of Joy was the most popular emoji across the world.
According to SwiftKey, Face with Tears of Joy comprised 17 percent of the emoji used in the U.S. in 2015 and 20 percent of those in the U.K. — a significant rise from 9 percent and 4 percent, respectively, last year. Oxford data also found that usage of the word “emoji” more than tripled in 2015 compared to 2014.
“Emojis are no longer the preserve of texting teens,” the statement said. “Instead, they have been embraced as a nuanced form of expression, and one which can cross language barriers.”
But even emoji aren’t immune from misunderstandings. As The Post’s Fred Barbash noted, the myriad interpretations that people have tacked onto emoji have long strayed from their original intended meanings — many of which were tied to Japanese cultural cues.
“Are we indeed using emoji wrong?” he asks. “Or is it that there is no right or wrong when it comes to emoji because it’s all in the context and the culture?”
Among the words that made Oxford’s short list for Word of the Year were “on fleek” (meaning: Extremely good, attractive or stylish), “lumbersexual” (meaning: 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) and “Brexit” (meaning: A term for the potential or hypothetical departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, from British + exit).
Another contender was “refugee”: “A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.”
More from Morning Mix