Time Should’ve Made the Tears of Joy Emoji Person of the Year
Face with Tears of Joy is having quite a year. It’s the most-tweeted emoji of 2015, according to the Twitter Data team, used 6.6 billion times (so far!). It’s not just Twitter that’s heralded Face With Tears of Joy, though: Last month, Oxford Dictionaries declared it the 2015 “word” of the year.
Oxford Dictionaries worked with keyboard app SwiftKey to determine the emoji people used most often in 2015. 😂 won, handily, as it was 17 percent of all emoji sent in the US.
😂 owes much of its success to its popularity on apps like Instagram—where, the company revealed last summer, it is the most popular emoji. But to be frank, 😂 has been seen a meteoric rise in popularity since its inception.
Face with Tears of Joy appeared with Unicode 6.0 in 2010, and has been near and dear to our mobile keyboards ever since. In 2013, analytics firm Luminoso reported that the twitterverse used 😂 more often than the tilde. But it’s a year-over-year comparison from emojitracker that really illustrates 😂 ‘s rise to power. When Matthew Rothenberg’s Twitter-trawling project launched in 2013, Face with Tears of Joy was second only to Hearts in terms of usage. At the moment, 😂 dominates by a huge margin.
“I think the Face with Tears of Joy emoji is so popular for a couple reasons,” says Fred Benenson, author of Emoji Dick. “It is versatile. It can be used to convey joy, obviously, but also ‘I’m laughing so hard I’m crying.’ So you’ve got two basic, commonly occurring human emotions covered. But then it can also probably be used for ‘I’m actually crying’ without being too serious. Because using the actual ‘I’m crying emoji’ is pretty intense.”
In other words: Part of what makes 😂 so versatile is its jokiness, which often is preferable to more serious emoji that might more accurately describe a feeling. Misstatement and embellishment are fundamental parts of the Internet, of course. We don’t use “It me” to talk about ourselves, and we don’t use “dead” to talk about death. “I think there’s an over-exaggerated nature to it that people seem to like to convey over text,” says Benenson. “Kind of like when people type ‘LOL’ but don’t really laugh out loud. Or ‘literally dying”—there’s a hyperbole to it that conveys humor as well.”
Another thing 😂 has going for it is its universality. Culturally specific emoji—like places of worship, or foods—are used in culturally specific ways. Facial expressions typically transcend national, religious, and political boundaries. “I think it’s not a coincidence that the face and hand emoji are the most popular categories, since they restore the facial and body cues that we have in person but not online,” says linguist Gretchen McCulloch, who studies emoji and language. “Face with Tears of Joy, for example, is like laughing so hard you’re crying, which expressing the sound of laughter [via] ‘lolololol’ or ‘hahahaha’ doesn’t quite convey.” 😂 is about as widely understood as an emoji gets, though McCulloh says it isn’t always clearly interpreted. “I’ve heard stories about less internet-savvy folks initially being confused about the crying part and not realizing that it was intended to be ‘crying-laughing,” she says.
Another reason Face with Tears of Joy has enjoyed a banner year (er, existence?): It looks great. “I think it is one of the better-designed face emoji from Apple. There’s just a lot going on, and it is a very expressive image,” Benenson says.
For what it’s worth, Emoji Girl, which sells customized emoji charm bracelets, says Face with Tears of Joy is its most popular trinket. But don’t let the recent surge in appreciation fool you—😂 is, and always will be, the embodiment of the Internet’s ethos: sort of laughing, sort of crying, slightly cringing, and all joy.
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