Yesterday, Oxford Dictionaries announced that its Word of the Year of 2015 is 😂, otherwise designated as “Face with Tears of Joy” by the Unicode Consortium. Who did this, fam?
In the announcement, Oxford University Press said that they had partnered with keyboard developer SwiftKey to analyze usage worldwide. “😂 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,” they wrote. (The source of this data is unclear, but is likely drawn in large part from the typing habits SwiftKey keyboard users as well as publicly accessible publishing platforms like Twitter. Collecting reliable stats from Facebook has been notoriously difficult for years, owing to user inclination not to make everything they post on Facebook public. Let’s say that our anecdotal experience doesn’t contradict the data.)
(While we’re in parentheticals, let’s make it clear that Oxford Dictionaries is not the Oxford English Dictionary: “The dictionary content in Oxford Dictionaries focuses on current English and includes modern meanings and uses of words … The OED, on the other hand, is a historical dictionary[.]”)
We’ll sidestep the no-doubt scintillating debate over whether or not 😂 is actually a word and acknowledge that 😂 is unquestionably among the top emoji, as any frequent user of Instagram, Twitter, or Vine will tell you.
How do you use the crymoji? There are three steps:
1. Find a humorous picture, video, or news story. Something immediately and viscerally funny or weird, and probably just on the edge of offensive.
2. Type “Who did this?” Or “who did this” or “fam who did this?”
3. Paste in 😂 It’s in “Smileys & People” on your iPhone.
Generally speaking 😂 is used to communicate laughter, but of a specific kind: involuntary and forceful. It covers three separate emotional reactions — crying, laughing, and cry-laughing — as well as the nebulous middle ground between each. Maybe something is so funny that you cry from laughing so hard, maybe something is so uncomfortable that you can’t help but laugh while you cry. In other words, it’s better suited for the immediate and sometimes risqué humor of social media than it is for parlor-room wit.
Its versatility, and its usefulness for the kind of humor made for social media, makes 😂 the most-used symbol on Twitter, ahead of the second-place heart by nearly 2:1 according to emojitracker. It’s not uncommon to find it used in tandem with the phrase “who did this,” a nod to the unknown origins of many of the viral images floating around social media.
Crying face is generally used more widely than its similar cousin 😭, or “loudly crying face,” which can mean the same thing but possibly appears too pained to really travel. Why did human crying face win out over, say, its cat equivalent, 😹? Cat face with tears of joy, ranks 120th on emojitracker. I can’t say for certain why emoji users prefer one over the other, but I believe part of the disparity stems from the fact that many emoji users are human, rather than cat.