Bond villain Blofeld and his cat Next post: 11 acronyms that are actually ‘backronyms’

lumbersexual shortlist Previous Post: Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015: the shortlist

WOTY emoji banner

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2015 is…


That’s right – for the first time ever, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a pictograph: ????, officially called the ‘Face with Tears of Joy’ emoji, though you may know it by other names. There were other strong contenders from a range of fields, outlined below, but ???? was chosen as the ‘word’ that best reflected the ethos, mood, and preoccupations of 2015.

How well do you know your emojis? Take our quiz.

Why was this chosen?

Emojis (the plural can be either emoji or emojis) have been around since the late 1990s, but 2015 saw their use, and use of the word emoji, increase hugely.

This year Oxford University Press have partnered with leading mobile technology business SwiftKey to explore frequency and usage statistics for some of the most popular emoji across the world, and ???? was chosen because it was the most used emoji globally in 2015. SwiftKey identified that ???? made up 20% of all the emojis used in the UK in 2015, and 17% of those in the US: a sharp rise from 4% and 9% respectively in 2014. The word emoji has seen a similar surge: although it has been found in English since 1997, usage more than tripled in 2015 over the previous year according to data from the Oxford Dictionaries Corpus.

emoji frequency

What would emojis look like in real life? Watch the video.

A brief history of emoji

An emoji is ‘a small digital image or icon used to express an idea or emotion in electronic communication’; the term emoji is a loanword from Japanese, and comes from e ‘picture’ + moji ‘letter, character’. The similarity to the English word emoticon has helped its memorability and rise in use, though the resemblance is actually entirely coincidental: emoticon (a facial expression composed of keyboard characters, such as ;), rather than a stylized image) comes from the English words emotion and icon.

Emojis are no longer the preserve of texting teens – instead, they have been embraced as a nuanced form of expression, and one which can cross language barriers. Even Hillary Clinton solicited feedback in the form of emojis, and ???? has had notable use from celebrities and brands alongside everyone else – and even appeared as the caption to the Vine which apparently kicked off the popularity of the term on fleek, which appears on our WOTY shortlist.

Now that we’re all used to emojis being a shorthand method of communicating our thoughts, emotions, and responses, it made us wonder: what would it look like if you used emojis in real life? Our video imagines what exactly would happen.

The Word of the Year shortlist

shortlist WOTY 2015

What would you choose to be the 2015 Word of the Year? Take our poll.

ad blocker, noun: A piece of software designed to prevent advertisements from appearing on a web page.

Brexit, noun: A term for the potential or hypothetical departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union, from British + exit.

Dark Web, noun: The part of the World Wide Web that is only accessible by means of special software, allowing users and website operators to remain anonymous or untraceable.

on fleek, adjectival phrase: Extremely good, attractive, or stylish.

lumbersexual, noun: 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.

refugee, noun: A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.

sharing economy, noun: An economic system in which assets or services are shared between private individuals, either for free or for a fee, typically by means of the Internet.

they (singular), pronoun: Used to refer to a person of unspecified sex.

Learn more about the Word of the Year shortlist, including the reasons they were chosen.

How well do you know your emojis?

What would you choose to be the 2015 Word of the Year?

Find out more about why we chose this Word of the Year in a video interview with Casper Grathwohl, the President of the Dictionaries Division.

Back to top

The opinions and other information contained in OxfordWords blog posts and comments do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of Oxford University Press.