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date: 19 August 2018


The Oxford Companion to the English Language

Tom McArthur,

Jacqueline Lam-McArthur,

Lise Fontaine


A type of writing which is based on standardized pictorial representation of a wide variety of expressions e.g. Emoji, including ideas, emotions, countries, animals, and types of people, etc. The word is a borrowing from Japanese, meaning ‘picture word’: e (絵‎, “picture”) + moji (文字‎, “character”). While emoji is similar to emoticon in sound and meaning, the words are not related. Emoji are used in many different ways, from simply punctuating a message to writing a message entirely in emoji. Some would argue that emoji use is evolving into a kind of language, with a grammar of its own. As a meaningful resource for communication, emoji are not restricted to any one language and therefore are not a feature of English language specifically, although certainly with the dominance of English in Internet-based communication, emoji have become very popular. In 2015, Emoji, known as ‘face with tears of joy’, was named ‘word of the year’ in 2015 by Oxford Dictionaries. There is an online dictionary of emoji ( and a live online tracker showing emoji popularity by use (, which shows clearly at the time of writing that ‘face with tears of joy’ is by far the most frequently used emoji on Twitter. Academic work on emoji is increasing, for example Marcel Danesi’s book The Semiotics of Emoji: The Rise of Visual Language in the Age of the Internet, published in 2016. See online language play; computer-mediated communication; text messaging.