Standing and waiting in the grocery store checkout line used to be a shopper’s “free” time convenient for catching up on the latest scandal from Hollywood splashed across the face of The National Inquirer. But it appears our human species has now evolved to spend that idle time communicating via emails on cell phones. Weekly, I watch with amazement as those around me methodically click in a smooth, endless thumb-to-the-keys motion that challenges the speed of light.
So I am only mildly surprised to hear this year’s Word of the Year (bestowed by Oxford Dictionaries) is an emoji with a descriptive name: “Face with Tears of Joy.” You read that right — the “word” of the year, according to those madcap Oxford Dictionary editors, is not a word at all but a little symbol with a five-word title. These little icons made available to spice up electronic messages must be popular as this smiley-faced character’s frequency use tripled in 2015. (One immediate question is who tracks this stuff anyway?)
The word emoji is a Japanese term for picture code and there are 461 of the little darlings with “approved status.” What makes them useful is the emotional meaning they convey. The ones on my i-Phone are grouped in nine categories with interesting topics ranging from “standardized” to “smileys & people”, “animals and nature”, even “flags”.(Wouldn’t Sheldon on Big Bang Theory be pleased?)
Don’t confuse these little guys with emoticons defined as “a Portmanteau word (also sometimes called a compound word by us normal people) for emotion + icon.” That first creation, the “:-)” emoticon, was created on a desktop computer by a clever guy named Scott Fahlman way back in 1982. At least emoticons are easier to see than those myriads of miniscule yellow faces and other assorted oddities such as “Pile of Poo” which comes complete with flies circling. So, thanks to these sweet picture words, we now can add an emotional element to our typed message and hurray on to the next person on our message list that can be completed before the conveyor belt pulls one’s groceries relentlessly toward cashier.