Here we go again. Same old shit again. Dreary days, dirty air, cold cars, itchy skin, icy sidewalks—the cumulative effect of winter weighs on me like a shroud of wet wool. I become hypersensitive. Even the smallest irritant is a tripwire. I talk back to the Fox-13 meteorologists who say "as well" way too often. I gesture provocatively from the crosswalk as car after car runs the red light. I lament that every sentence written about Mayor Biskupsky's election has included "openly gay." And then I hear the Oxford Dictionary's 2015 word of the year is not a word at all but an effing emoji called "Face with Tears of Joy." The travesty propels me into a swivet worthy of Bill O'Reilly.
Emojis are sorry substitutes for words. However, those stylized, smiley-face mutations are all the rage with teens who text. Try as I might, I don't understand emojis' surging popularity. Yes, some are as cutesy as a cat video, and, yes, they offer the text-not-talk generation an on-demand, cartoon's worth of human emotion. But as a scribbler, I prefer words. I like the precision of words and their malleability, their willingness to be arranged just so. To convey the image of "Face with Tears of Joy" as I first saw it, I can marshal nouns and adjectives like this: an aspirin-sized, nose-less face (with sapphire tears and a crescent of ivory teeth) rendered in the ochre and brown associated with baby diapers. But the colors are unimportant. The pictograph is intended to portray emotion. The problem with this particular emoji is that it is as imprecise as GOP talking points. "Face with Tears of Joy" could just as easily be construed as "Face Chopping Onions" or "Face with Four-hour Erection" or "Face with Crocodile Tears."
I am not an early adopter. I resist most techno-trends, especially those that involve gimmicks. I am still grumbling about the Merriam-Webster word of the year in 2007—"w00t," a goofy, letter-number hybrid spelled with zeroes. Use of emojis is on the rise, however, and according to the Oxford Dictionary, they "reflect the ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2015." If that claim seems exaggerated, consider the bellwether tweet from Hillary Clinton's campaign last summer: "How does your student loan debt make you feel? Tell us in three emojis or less." Presumably, "Face with Tears of Joy" showed up in many of the responses. Seventeen percent of all emojis used in the United States last year at a six-billion-a-day rate were "Face with Tears of Joy," up eight points from 2014. What's the hidden message in those numbers? I don't know. Neither do I appreciate the sexting appeal of the eggplant emoji the American Dialect Society (ADS) selected as the most notable one of the year. Yes, even the venerable ADS has added a category for "Notable Emojis" to its word-of-the-year deliberations—an unwelcome development in my view.
Many dictionary companies call out a "word of the year." In so doing, they draw attention to themselves of course, but they also provide snapshots of our language responding to change. Neologisms, new words like "sext" and "vape," follow on the heels of developments like the e-cigarette and the texting device formerly known as telephone. It hasn't been that many years since "text" had no verb form. The 2015 word-of-the-year crop included "binge watch" from Collins, "identity" from Dictionary.com and the suffix "ism" from Merriam-Webster. ADS's "they" as a singular pronoun was interesting enough to distract me from emoji pique. The recognition that "they" is evolving is important for two reasons. First, we scribblers can write without guilt, "A politician will take money from whomever they can" instead of the traditional, "A politician will take money from whomever he or she can." I am happy to be free of the clumsy "he or she" construct. Second, the 2015 "they" can be gender-neutral. It is being used by people who don't identify as either male or female, as in this sentence: "Is Rex coming to the party and bringing their guitar?"
"So, Rex is coming but without their guitar." That anterior "so," whose use is associated with answers to questions, irritates a lot of people. So much so that it heads the 2015 list of "words banished from the Queen's English for misuse, overuse and general uselessness," according to Lake Superior State University. For 41 years, the Michigan school has been culling words that deserve to be discarded. As a point of interest, "so" also made the list in 1999 alongside "you the man." "So" was used differently back then as in this Valley-speakish example: "I am so not into that." So, "so" is evolving as 2016 gets underway. "Vape" is already out of favor after being named Oxford's word of the year in 2014. The word "conversation" has been worn smooth by pols and pundits who benefit more from bluster than from action. Income inequality will not be solved by a protracted conversation. Neither will racism. It's time to retire "the conversation."
The Global Language Monitor puts the number of words in the English lexicon at 1.2 million with a new word being coined every 98 minutes. Who knows or cares about the proliferation of emojis? It seems like the word-banishers have the right idea. Clean out the closet, starting with the worn-out jeans. Most of the banished words represent a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard reaction from observant people. On my cringe list are "awesome," "totally," "perfect" and "as well." How much do I hate hearing them? So, let me just say that this emoji grimace doesn't even come close.