Back in 1990, the internet was young, and print still ruled, as it had since the days of Johannes Gutenberg. It followed then that the American Dialect Society, introducing the notion of a Word of the Year, looked to print for candidates. The winner was the sarcastic political term bushlips, referring to President Bush’s failure to keep his promise of “Read my lips — no new taxes.”
Fast forward a quarter century to 2016, and the digital revolution has had its effect on our language. Not only has it produced many of the society’s Words of the Year, like information superhighway (1993), cyber (1994), World Wide Web (1995), millennium bug (1997), the prefix e- (1998), tweet (2009), and app (2010), as well as the Word of the Decade of the 1990s: web. It has also created new categories of language undreamed of in 1990: the hashtag, for one, and the emoji for another. Both were separate categories in last year’s voting for the Word of 2015 and will very likely be recognized again this year. The vote takes place at the American Dialect Society meeting with the Linguistic Society of America, in Austin, Tex., on January 5 and 6. Nominations are being accepted here.
Hashtags often turn out to be slogans, even full sentences, as in the hashtag which also turned out to be the ADS Word of the Year 2014 ; #blacklivesmatter.
Emojis are something else altogether, as evidenced by the translation firm in London that recently advertised for an emoji translator.
Emojis are, on the one hand, a universal language of gestures and facial expressions; on the other, a challenge for understanding anything beyond the simplest gesture. Hence the need for translators.
As for the current year fast coming to an end — is there a hashtag that expresses the essence of 2016, or an emoji? Your suggestions are welcome.
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