Oxford has officially lost its sense of purpose


I’m a bit of a word nerd.

I say that not because I find myself getting wedgies at the water fountain while I’m conjugating verbs, but because I find myself getting a little excited every year when the major dictionaries announce the new words they will be including in their listings. English is a language that began as a conglomeration of others, and has constantly evolved over time to reflect the world in which we live.

It’s probably one of the many reasons English is considered such a difficult language to learn. It’s hard enough to get a full grasp on homonyms and synonyms and lots of other “nyms,” but then the darn thing keeps changing every time you start to get a handle on it.

However, the fact that the language continues to adapt is a sign that the language itself continues to be pertienent. Oh, sure, we take a lot of shortcuts with the ways we communicate with one another, and social media is a breeding ground for poor grammar and insidious acronyms and abbreviations, but English at its heart is still a language based on words and the various ways in which they are ordered to express a thought or communicate a desire.

Well, that was the case.

The Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year for 2015 is officially a pictograph — or, as it is more commonly referred to today, an emoji. The official title of this particular emoji is “Face with Tears of Joy,” and it is leaving my face with tears of not-joy.

I’m not trying to sound like an old crank here. I can hear the younger people already: “That old dude is so stuck in the past. We communicate with emojis now because it’s a more-efficient way to talk. He’s behind the times.”

Actually, I’m ahead of the times if the current trend is hieroglyphics. Have we really devolved into an era when cave drawings and cute little frowny faces are how we talk? I consistently get my hackles up when I hear people bemoaning today’s youth, as I feel like their access to immediate information provides them more of a world view than I certainly had as a kid, but I do admit to a little fogey-ism when it comes to language.

And I do get a little stunned at the level of profanity I hear from young people at stores or in restaurants. Look, those who know me well know full well that I’m capable of firing off an expletive at a moment’s notice, but it’s not something I care to do out in public. And, when I was younger, it was something I tried to contain to when I was with my friends and no adults could hear me. For one thing, my mother would have used the Oxford Dictionary on my backside if word got back to her and, for another, it was deemed disrespectful to curse in public.

Profanity aside, grammar is taking a beating in our new age of technology. I fully understand that conversational English is different than the written word. But so much of conversational English now is the written word, be it a text message, social media posting or a digital comment. It sends a shiver up and down my spine when I see people can’t use “your” or “its” or “their,” and when they do it digitally, it comes with a personal autograph attached to remind us of their inability to grasp the English language. Getting “your” wrong is not because you’re hanging out with your friends and speaking fast, it’s because you don’t know the difference. Or care how you present yourself.

And that’s sad.

I’m not trying to hammer anybody today. I apologize for that little rant. But we hear people every single day talking about how the downfall of modern society is due to gay couples being in love or people owning guns, and we ignore the simple little fact that people can no longer speak intelligently. Or write in cursive. Or make change without a digital cash register.

Perhaps a simple return to basics would help?

I remember being in third grade and having to stand up in front of the class and recite my multiplication tables. Every time I would stumble, the nun would smack her ruler on the desk and it would shock me back into what I was doing. Was it a simple case of “memorize-and-regurgitate” education? Absolutely. But I still know today that 12 times 11 is 132, and that skill helps more often than not.

Wow, talk about a digression. I completely went off topic.

Regardless, it concerns me that an emoji would be considered the word of the year by a publication that has been held in high esteem for generations. I get that Oxford wants to evolve with the times and be seen as a representative source of all things communicative, but I fear that, like so many other entities, it is losing its very soul in this new-age transformation.

There was a time when Oxford and Webster’s were seen as the guardians of the English language. If it wasn’t in those pages, we weren’t allowed to use that word at home. You know what one of the other finalists was for word of the year that came up short to the emoji?

Refugee.

It’s official definition, per Oxford, is, “A person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution or natural disaster.”

Maybe I’m just being an old fogey, but that word seems much more important than a “Face with Tears of Joy.”