Monthly Archives: November 2015

Word of the Year

There are many problems in the world today. Hunger. War. Terrorism. Disease. Racism. Sexism. Religious fanaticism. Here, on the soapbox that is my personal blog, I don’t shy away from the hard issues. Those problems that you look at, and think,’<Insert problem here>. Boy, I don’t know.’ The things that keep you up at night. The things that you read about all over the Internet, probably on blogs like this owned by people who just have an opinion and an high speed hookup, or maybe on credible news sites. That is why, here today, I am writing on this very serious issue. The Oxford Dictionaries 2015 Word of the Year, well, isn’t.

This year, the people who work at the Oxford University Press, responsible for the selection of the hitherto prestigious Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year, have selected the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji. The first thing you will notice about the Oxford dictionaries word of the year, is, it is not a word. It’s a picture. Of a face. I first saw this in an article published by The Onion.Thinking it was a brilliant joke, I almost drove my car off the road when I later heard it on a BBC radio news broadcast. It turns out The Onion doesn’t make up the thing that Victoria Brenden, Glue Spreader, et al. are responding to, just the responses.

Back to the Not-Word of the Year. Actually, I heard Mona Lisa was in the running, but her eyes were creeping out the judges. It’s ironic, because her gaze is most reminiscent of the looks I have received after breaking the news of the Oxford UP’s utter abomination of the year to my friends and colleagues, most of whom communicate with actual words, and not face pictures. As is usually the case with things that I deem worthy of discussion on my blog, there is quite a bit more to the word of the year than you might think.

The Word of the Year is a spin off of Time Magazine’s Person of the Year. Interestingly, this prestigious honor was called “Man of the Year” until 1999, despite being awarded to a woman in 1936, 1937, 1952, to “American women” in 1975, and again to a woman in 1986. Because someone might care, while the general term was “Man of the Year”, the years in which women were selected had “Woman of the Year” printed on the cover. The first Man of the Year was Charles Lindberg, the year in which he flew solo across the Atlantic. The idea of the Person of the Year award is to name the person who was most influential during the past year. This can be influence for good or for evil, and in fact Adolf Hitler was Man of the Year in 1938, and Joseph Stalin was Man of the Year twice, once in 1939, and again in 1942.

The Word of the Year is not as old as the Person of the Year, although the institution that started it is. The first Word of the Year was chosen in 1990, by the American Dialect Society, which was founded in 1889. The 1990 Word of the Year was bushlips, which refers to insincere political rhetoric. Other categories for the Word of the Year — that’s right, the American Dialect Society has categories — include the following. Most Likely To Succeed: notebook PC and rightsizing (tie). Most Useful: technostupidity, and and potty parity (tie). Most Original: voice merging. Most adventurous: bungee jumping. Most Unnecessary: peace dividend. Finally, Most Outrageous: politically correct or PC. So not only did the American Dialect Society choose actual words, they chose ones that were appropriate, and even correctly placed political correctness in the outrageous category, a move which I would have applauded…had I…you know…had I been alive then.

The American Dialect Society had another apt Word of the Year winner for the year of my birth: Not! I don’t mean to negate my previous statement, I mean that was the 1992 Word of the Year. “Not!” That was it. The string of words that followed as words of the year in various categories throughout the years have been phenomenal, including 1993’s Most Unpronounceable Word of the Year, Jurassosauros nedegoapeferkimorum, 2004’s Most Outrageous Word of the Year, santorum, which was a play on the senator’s name, and 2013’s Most Unnecessary Word of the Year, sharknado. In 2014, the society selected #blacklivesmatter as the word of the year. They also introduced a new category that year, most notable hashtag. Now, I don’t like hashtags. I don’t really use them. I’ve tweeted six tweets in my life, all for a news writing class assignment junior year of college. Anyone who wants to know what my social media posts are about, as sporadic as they are, can just deduce it from the content of the post. That being said, I understand that languages evolve, and that a lot of people are using hashtags as a way to communicate. The addition of a new category to address this is something which I can’t really argue. Selecting a hashtag as the Word of the Year, well, that was stupid. Especially since there some pretty dramatic words that could have been selected instead. Like, say, racism. But that’s not really what the Word of the Year is for, and I’m not a member of the American Dialect Society.

The American Dialect Society actually outlines what a Word of the Year must be. It must be demonstrably new or newly popular in the year in question, widely and/or prominently used in the year in question, indicative or reflective of the popular discourse, and not a peeve or a complaint about the overuse or misuse. So I must admit that racism wouldn’t have been a good candidate for Word of the Year in 2014. It doesn’t fit the bill. It is a powerful word, and it accurately describes some attitudes that still exist in this country and around the world, but it wasn’t widely or prominently used, or newly popular. While the American Dialect Society did go a little off their rocker by choosing a hashtag as the Word of the Year, their other Words of the Year were actual words. (You can find them all here.)

So we come back to the original instigator of this post, the Face with Tears of Joy emoji. I think the best thing to do is to compare it to two winners of Time’s Man of the Year. The first, in 1982, was the computer. Obviously, not a man. The second, in 1988, was the Earth. Also, not a man. I’m still upset that the vulgar folks at the Oxford Dictionaries chose a pictograph as the 2015 word of the year. But I have hope. I have hope because the the 1982 man of the year was a machine, and the 1988 man of the year was a planet, and the 1983 and 1989 men of the year, were men. I have hope, because as it turns out, the Oxford Dictionaries people don’t even really matter anyways. They even explain to you on their website how they have partnered with a special emoji analytics software company to help select the word of the year. They just had this new piece of technology, and wanted to show it off. Of course the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year was an emoji, they were looking for it with a tool that only looked at emojis. If you take words seriously, the only words of the year that really matter are the ones chosen by the American Dialect Society. Their vote hasn’t taken place yet, so we’ll have to sit on the edge of our seats to see what they decide.

In the mean time, the Word of This Post is “year”, which is used 48 times (not including this paragraph, and accounts for %10 of the words on this page). The runner up, is “word”, used 26 times. “Man”, “society” and “American” all place in a tie below the top two, with a count of nine each. The Most Likely to Succeed Word of This Post is “American Dialect Society Word of the Year”, and the Least Likely to Succeed Word of This Post, is “Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year”. Finally, the Most Outrageous Word of This Post is “Face with Tears of Joy Emoji”.