No tears of joy (yet): emoji make their OED debut

No tears of joy (yet): emoji make their OED debut

This month’s update to OED marked a small but colourful milestone in Oxford lexicographers’ use of social media as a source for illustrative quotations. A small number of entries now online are the first to show pictorial emoji where they occur in quotation text taken from online sources.

All the quotations in question are taken from Twitter, which currently provides the great part of OED’s material drawn from contemporary social media sources. This is because the lack of an ‘edit’ button for Twitter postings (so often lamented by users keen to expunge typographical errors without deleting and reposting tweets) allows us to be certain that a quotation—containing the word being illustrated—was posted in the form in which it we find it, on the date given.

Here’s a quick tour of the new faces (and objects) that have started to appear in OED quotation text.

Buttertooth and stupendiously: love and vomit

In each of these cases, the editor adding the quotation has decided that the emoji forms an integral part of the post being quoted, and that it is therefore worth including so that our users get a full sense and flavour of the source being quoted. In two instances now online, emoji are seen performing perhaps their most common and familiar role: adding information about the sentiment or tone of the post. At buttertooth, the ‘face vomiting’ emoji jokily reinforces the negative associations of the plural sense ‘teeth that are yellowish or uncared-for’:

While a more earnest and positive sentiment is expressed with the ‘heart suit’ emoji in a postdating quotation for the adjective stupendiously:

(It’s worth noting here that not all emoji render in the same way in all browsers, and depending on how you access, you may find that your mileage varies; in some browsers, this emoji will display as a black, rather than a red heart—though this is not the same as the ‘black heart’ emoji.)

Inverse: a landmark turned upside-down

In the case of inverse, the emoji being reproduced is doing something different: it’s standing in for the words ‘Mount Fuji’ (or the words ‘a mountain’, but the emoji’s official name is ‘Mount Fuji’):

This quotation at inverse was chosen over others because the sense illustrated (‘that is or has been turned upside down’) is quite difficult to find in examples in which it isn’t either very hard to distinguish from, or is blended with, other senses referring to various kinds of reversal. This tweet offered us a fairly clear instance of the sense in question, which the juxtaposition of ‘inverse cone’ and the emoji helps to make clear—although perhaps not quite as fully as the handsomely illustrated original tweet:

Although this substitution for a word or phrase isn’t how emoji are most often used, it’s not unusual for emoji to stand in for words: the ‘snowflake’ emoji ❄, for instance, stands in for the word snowflake (in various senses), and is also used where ‘snow’ or ‘snowy’ would be a more natural substitution for the image.

Pride: local colour

The final emoji included in this update was actually the first to be added: a ‘rainbow flag’ emoji (actually a combination of two emoji, ‘waving white flag’ and ‘rainbow’) provides an evocative and typical visual cue at our entry for pride n.1 sense 6b:

More emoji will no doubt make their way into OED text in future updates, so long as they continue to form an integral part of many people’s discourse on, and experience of, social media. In recent months, we’ve been making changes to our treatment of social media and other online sources, so that our documentation of them better matches how users experience and express themselves online, and we hope to look at these changes in more detail in a future blog post.

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