Back in 2015, Oxford Dictionaries announced its Word of the Year, and it wasn't a word. It was the emoji of a smiling face with tears of joy. 😂 Oxford said this emoji best defined the mood and feelings of that year.
Oxford Dictionaries joined with SwiftKey, a technology company, to identify the most common emoji. That smiling face with tears was used almost 20% of the time that any emoji was used in the United States or Britain. (Imagine the poor person who had to count them.)
The dictionary company's president, Casper Grathwohl, said at the time, "You can see how traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st-century communication."
Emojis, he said, are evocative, useful and easy. I can think of many evocative words to use rather than emojis: fiery, loathsome, somber.
I guess I'm old-fashioned, but I thought the Word of the Year should be a word. I'll concede that emojis might help communication between people who don't speak the same language. But it would be a fairly shallow conversation. Two English-speaking people using the same language with each other have more than 1 million words to harness. They're fun to use, but I can't agree that emojis are a rich form of communication.
To be fair, Oxford chose words in subsequent years. "Post-truth" was the word for 2016. "Youthquake" was the word for 2017. And "toxic" was the word for 2018.
But I was reminded of this debacle recently when I read an article about the white wine emoji. One doesn't exist. You can only find a red wine emoji. 🍷
Winemaker Kendall-Jackson has been trying to foment (I so wanted to say ferment) action on this deficiency. The company submitted a hefty, detailed proposal on why the world needs a white wine emoji to the Unicode Consortium.
I loved hearing their motive from director of marketing Maggie Curry. "The Kendall-Jackson team is ... excited to represent the white wine community across the globe, as we look to add this missing piece of communication to the modern communication zeitgeist," she said. Who doesn't want to help the zeitgeist?
This Unicode Consortium is the group that sets the standards for computer encoding. They also decide what new emojis the world needs each year.
The Unicode Emoji Subcommittee views about 50 proposals a year. The consortium specifies what qualities an emoji must have. It should have the potential to be used by many people around the world. It has to be recognizable in the teeny, tiny space that emojis inhabit. It has to be distinct enough from other emojis. A proposal can't seek an overly specific emoji. For example, because we have a pasta emoji, 🍝, I dare not seek a bowtie pasta emoji. Fads won't make the cut, though I'm not sure how the subcommittee is able to discern what's short-lived and what isn't.
Kendall-Jackson's heartfelt proposal, alas, was not accepted this year. But the subcommittee said it would continue to consider the possibility in the future. It wasn't all bad news, so I'll toast to white wine with white wine this weekend, in solidarity.
Some emojis that did make this year's list include a waffle, falafel, a sloth, an ear with a hearing aid, people in wheelchairs, and a yo-yo. But note that it takes about two years for an emoji to appear in a text near you.
Some other emoji proposals that haven't made the cut are a humanoid unicorn, haggis, the Matterhorn and a piggy bank.
A Japanese pager company created the emoji (both "emoji" and "emojis" are correct for the plural) in the 1990s. Emoji comes from the Japanese characters for "picture" and "letter."
The emoji was immediately popular, but some worked only on certain brands of pagers.
Before long, the emoji were made uniform so that one sent on one device would look similar on any other device.
At the start, emoji used just a couple of letters or characters to create pictures. So, a colon and a right bracket make a smiling face (:]). A semicolon and a right bracket make a winking-eye face (;]). A less-than sign and a 3 form a heart (<3).
Soon, many companies added a slew of keyboard emoji, so that instead of remembering an array of characters to create a picture, you just press the one that fits your mood. Choices range from a crocodile 🐊 and a chocolate bar 🍫 to a saxophone 🎷 and an Easter Island head 🗿. (I'm not at all sure what mood an Easter Island head suggests.)
And emails and texts are casual forums. I have used emoji often, but I will never find them more useful than words.
I assume most people know never to use emoji on formal correspondence or a resume. Especially not the puckered lips.
Sources include Merriam-Webster, American Heritage Dictionary, The Wall Street Journal, Time magazine, NPR, The Washington Post, Food and Wine, Unicode.org, Emojipedia.org, YouTube. Reach Bernadette at
ActiveStyle on 10/07/2019
Print Headline: I second that emoji, sometimes