IN PERHAPS the ultimate reflection of modern communication, the word of the year chosen by Oxford Dictionaries is not a word at all, but an emoji.
The icon of a yellow smiling face with two tears welling up in its eyes - known as “face with tears of joy” - was picked as the word or expression that has best captured the ethos, mood and preoccupations of 2015.
A staple of teenagers sending text messages, the use of emojis in digital communications has exploded into mainstream culture over the past year, with US presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton trying to be hip by using them while talking to young voters and Andy Murray tweeting his wedding itinerary with the icons.
The little picture of a crying, smiling face pipped a host of actual words to the top spot, pushing aside language on subjects from global politics and current affairs to technology and pop culture - including one term used by a young woman to describe the condition of her eyebrows.
While a “lumbersexual”, that young male urbanite sporting a beard and checked shirt, may be considered rather “on fleek”, or attractive, he is not quite en vogue enough to top the humble “face with tears of joy”.
But while that emoji is top “word” - following in the footsteps of “vape”, “selfie” and “omnishambles” - there are no plans to include the icons themselves in any Oxford dictionary.
According to the judges, “emoji have come to embody a core aspect of living in a digital world that is visually driven, emotionally expressive, and obsessively immediate”.
Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries, said: “You can see how traditional alphabet scripts have been struggling to meet the rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st century communication.
“It’s not surprising that a pictographic script like emoji has stepped in to fill those gaps - it’s flexible, immediate, and infuses tone beautifully. As a result emoji are becoming an increasingly rich form of communication, one that transcends linguistic borders.
“When Andy Murray tweeted out his wedding itinerary entirely in emoji, for example, he shared a subtle mix of his feelings about the day directly with fans around the world. It was highly effective in expressing his emotions.”
The face with tears of joy icon was the most widely used emoji in the world this year, research by Oxford University Press and mobile business technology firm SwiftKey found.
Its use in 2015 grew four-fold on the previous 12 months in the UK, where it accounts for 20% of all emojis used.
Mr Grathwohl said “face with tears of joy” captured a sense of “playfulness and intimacy that embodies emoji culture itself”.
He added: “Emoji culture has become so popular that individual characters have developed their own trends and stories.
“They can serve as insightful windows through which to view our cultural preoccupations, so it seemed appropriate to reflect this emoji obsession by selecting one as this year’s word of the year.”
Other words in the shortlist included the technology terms “ad blocker” - software to stop adverts appearing on web pages - and “dark web”, part of the internet that can only be reached by special software.
For politicians, the “refugee” crisis across Europe and “Brexit”, the potential departure of the UK from the EU, are hot topics at the moment, but they may spend less time talking about a “sharing economy”, where assets and services are shared between private individuals.
Meanwhile the pronoun “they” has taken on a new meaning, now also being used in the singular to refer to a person of unspecified sex.