In late 2015, the world underwent a seismic shift the likes of which have never been seen before. It was an event that shook the fabric of society to its very core, and challenged every pillar of human achievement, ever documented, since the dawn of time.
Yes. You guessed right.
An emoji was added to the dictionary.
I’m probably over-reacting (I did the same thing when proper nouns were allowed in Scrabble), but as someone who has a rather deep affection for the English language, its decline is something I can’t help but mourn.
‘Face with tears of joy’—as it is officially referred to in the Oxford English Dictionary—was chosen as the latest addition to the reference book because, according to the OED blog, emojis ‘embody a core aspect of living in a digital world that is visually driven, emotionally expressive, and obsessively immediate.’
According to Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, our language of letters isn’t cutting the mustard for the ‘rapid-fire, visually focused demands of 21st-century communication.’ He goes on to say that the move to a less wordy form of communication is a logical one, and that an emoji is perfectly suited for the job because it is ‘flexible, immediate, and infuses tone beautifully.’
The same can be said for the interaction between words and images in print and digital advertising. Depending on which medium you interact with, imagery can—and often does—capture your attention and imagination first. An arresting image has an arguably more immediate effect than a line of copy, no matter how pithy or thought provoking. But what would happen if you removed the text entirely? Would it cease to be advertising, and simply be art?
We only need to look at the endless parade of logos, typefaces and colours that we automatically associate with behemoth brands to show how imagery can burn an indelible idea onto our brains. But oftentimes, this is accompanied by a tagline or motto that rings Pavlovian-style in our aural memory. ‘Just Do It’. ‘Think Different’. ‘Because You’re Worth It’. As stand-alone phrases, they work. But as the tagline to a strong visual, they succeed. In advertising, imagery or text as individual entities can only go so far. To sell someone an idea—and immerse them in it at the same time—a balance of imagery and text is almost always the winning formula.
Language is a constantly changing medium, something that evolves along with the people who use it. A shift away from traditional methods of communication to those that better fit our tech-driven, modern lifestyles is inevitable, but when the essence of language itself can be distilled into a single, simple image that accurately represents a multitude of emotions—humour, sarcasm, joy, disappointment—it feels particularly poignant. When we use emojis, we all immediately understand what they mean, regardless of language, culture or background; no words are needed. That’s a seriously sophisticated smiley face.
But without the context of a conversation, emojis are a bit redundant. They might give added emphasis to a particularly cringe-worthy story (OMG my dress was tucked into my pants all day and NOBODY TOLD ME *wide eyed smiley face*) or add colour and cuteness to the banal, everyday messages we all send (Hey, can you remember to pick up cat litter *red heart, pink heart, chicken in an egg*), but at the end of the day, they are really more like a meaningful form of punctuation than a replacement for the good old ABC*. Thank goodness for that.
So it seems that the old adage rings true; a picture really can be worth a thousand words. But the right words—paired with the right images—can be priceless.
*The exception to this rule may be Andy Murry’s famous wedding day tweet composed entirely of emojis. In chronological order. Which made total sense. I never said I was right all the time.