Did you know that 17 July was World Emoji Day? In 2015, Oxford Dictionaries officially declared a pictograph as the word of the year, specifically the "face with tears of joy" emoji. So yes, the word of the year was not even a word.
At one level, uncle Oxford's move smacks of a desperate attempt to be cool. At another, it reflects the paradox of the current times and climes. Just like most of our friends on FB are not even friends. Or like a custard apple is neither custard nor apple.
Not that I'm complaining about it, far from it. Ever since I laid my roving blogger's eye on emojis, I have befriended them, patronised them, propagated them and at times exploited them, rather copiously, in my communication. No text message of mine is now complete unless I punctuate it with a wide-eyed/smiley-eyed/teary-eyed/bleary-eyed or a frowny-eyed emoji.
Whenever my eloquence deserts me or the fertile froth of ideas dries up unannounced, these little elves come to my rescue with a bouquet of options.
Before the emojis came along and vivified my communication, my messages languished in the barren black and white backwaters of monochrome. Insipid. Impersonal. Nonchalant. Almost rude. Orphan words lay abandoned on the cold brutal text frame. Like specks of dandruff on a bone-dry bald pate. Devoid of any hue from my vibrant personality palette. Woefully lacking in human juices. Failing to establish a connect between the sender and the sendee.
The emoji (with all its assorted country cousins) came along and VIBGYORed my life with myriad hues of texcitement. All those pent up emotions, which I earlier struggled to cast into words are now expressed with a flourish. No fear of getting sucked into cliché-zone or sounding like a cross between Shakespeare and Munshi Prem Chand.
The emoji wave refuses to wane. In crackling emotional textures from drool to cool, witty to pretty, and naughty to haughty, it is gaining a chokehold on the global semantic landscape, surreptitiously sneaking into almost all modes of electronic communication.
As social media has grown (and character counts, shrunk), speech has been deboned of all pauses. Consonants have collapsed into each other. Sentences have dissolved into a semantic soup. Long compositions have been rendered comatose by Twitter and SMS. Communication is now amputated and condensed into linguistics capsules.
This new T-20 style of communication may break some Oxbridge crockery and leave your grammar nerves twitching, but there's no way you are going to be able to put the genie back in the bottle.
A text message has an emotional flatness... Emojis infuse an oral quality, tonality, inflection, and an emotional texture that makes the same message dance with depth and delight.
I wish to confess that the urge to be semantically cool is hardwired in my DNA. Unfortunately, the growth in my enthusiasm to up my cool quotient is in inverse proportion to my memory that, sadly, is slipping downhill faster than Kejriwal's popularity. Just when I thought I had become a bonafide member of the cool brigade by mastering the acronym army of YOLOs, LOLs & ROTFLs, along came the emoji!
Today I'm no longer an Alice in Emojiland. One of the biggest advantages of embracing the emoji is that I can now comfortably let my brain lie in the deep freeze. To colour my prose, I no longer need to go crack my cranium for carefully enunciated words. No need to wait for inspiration to trigger my dopamine levels. No need to scan a retinue of colourless adjectives. No need to go granular trying to explain my point-of-view to friends.
Whenever my eloquence deserts me or the fertile froth of ideas dries up unannounced, these little elves come to my rescue with a bouquet of options. I just take my pick from an array of seemingly infantile yet instantly recognisable emoticons that breach linguistic barriers and cultural bottlenecks with consummate ease. I embellish my text with the choicest smileys – tailor-made for a generation that dismisses "deep meaningful conversations" as DMCs.
John McWhorter, a linguist who teaches at Columbia University, says that men usually find emoji usage emasculating as emotions are perceived to be a woman's domain. Yet more and more men are bravely reaching out for an emoji where words either fail them or come up short—one finger on the "remove button" as they do so. Women, of course, use emoticons unabashedly, even wantonly. That's because we wear our hearts on our typing fingers. And also because we have an 8-way super highway to process emotions, while the poor boys just have a dilapidated country road.
I think that language is no more threatened by emojis, than stairs by elevators. They can, at best, augment language—not replace it.
A text message has an emotional flatness that is ... well, flat. Emojis infuse an oral quality, tonality, inflection, and an emotional texture that makes the same message dance with depth and delight. Yet these little friendly guys aren't without their share of controversy. For every die-hard emoji fan, there's a venom-spewing critic who could have them burn in hell with his fury.
David Webster, in an article in the Guardian, spews venom on the popularity of emojis, calling them the most uninteresting, unfunny and uninventive of all the linguistic joys brought to us by the internet. They typify an annoying persistence among adults to act like teenagers, he thunders. Critics also argue that emojis signify a detached, dehumanised form of social existence—a glazed sucking of the cyber-thumb. The guardians of grammar aren't amused that after millennia of painful improvement, from illiteracy to Shakespeare and beyond, humanity is rushing to throw it all away. Dyed-in-the-tweed intellectuals are bemoaning the death of literacy, fearing that the rise of the emoticon threatens to catapult us back to the Stone Age.
Well, personally I am not a big fan of this belt-and-braces approach. I think that language is no more threatened by emojis, than stairs by elevators. They can, at best, augment language—not replace it. Moreover, you and I can't stop language from evolving. And if we can't beat 'em, we may as well join 'em. What say?