Can "😂" (the Face with Tears of Joy emoji) be technically considered a word, from a linguistic point of view?

Obviously, emoji are different from "ordinary" words, but:

  1. "😂" was the Oxford Word of the Year 2015 (emphasis added)
  2. "😂" has an entry in Wiktionary
  3. like Latin, Greek, Cyrillic, etc. letters (e.g. "A", "b"), emoji have Unicode code points (Unicode being "a standard for all the characters of all writing systems of the world" [source])
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    2 and 3 aren’t really much of an argument, since lots of non-letters have Unicode code points, and most Unicode code points have Wiktionary entries. All the box drawing glyphs and IPA diacritics aren’t letters, for example, but they have Wiktionary entries; and while control characters like carriage return or delete don’t have Wiktionary entries (how would you even get to them?), they do have Unicode code points, but definitely aren’t letters. Is it a word? Potentially. But how is it pronounced? ‘Word’ is notoriously undefinable, but having a pronunciation should be a basic requirement. Commented Sep 18, 2021 at 12:00
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    There are many ways of defining 'word'. I think to make your question meaningful you'd need to add a definition of word to it, or or specify a purpose for asking that might imply a definition. As it is I think it's unanswerable.
    – bdsl
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 9:51
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    @JanusBahsJacquet There are Wikipedia articles on carriage return with a redirect from , and one on the delete character with a redirect from
    – Henry
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 16:02
  • @Henry True, and you can probably look each of those names/symbols up on Wiktionary too; for other Unicode characters, however, you can look them up directly by inputting the Unicode value as the lookup form, which you can’t do with the control characters because you can’t have control characters in a URL. Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 16:04
  • Can you explain how you see "word/letter" as different? Beyond that, isn't the emoji symbol set equivalent to all alphabets, hieroglyphics or what have you? That's pretty-much to say, is the symbol part of a recognised set of symbols? Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 23:20

1 Answer 1


In corpus lingustics we deal with corpora containing emojis, e.g., twitter corpora or other corpora of computer mediated communication, and thus it is a legitimate question how to treat them.

Stand-alone emojis are treated as words (or wordforms) and they are even assigned a special part of speech named "Symbol" in Universal Dependencies (for an overview on part-of-speech tagsets, see this answer).

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    I think it's sort of funny how English wound up partially going back to ideoglyphs because they accidentally re-imported them from Japan...
    – nick012000
    Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 4:15
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    @nick012000 In English primarily only the 'emotional emoji' are used which are more similar to punctuation marks than ideograms. They express 'how' something was said rather than symbolizing a certain thing. Emoji that are symbolize specific things (e.g. 🥼🥽🎎) aren't often used. Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 6:42
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    I recently started seeing 🧵 a lot on twitter, for "thread", and used exactly like a word. Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 9:20
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    Well, on twitter (max 280), or any platform where there's a restriction in characters, there's use to replace long words by shorter characters. Some phones also offer to replace a word by a emoticon, which simplifies input. Commented Sep 19, 2021 at 16:27
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    @Araucaria-him But "sadly" is a spoken word, whilst saying something in a sad tone is about the tone and expression with which something is said. On chat we don't write "I sadly said 'fine'", we just write "fine 😟". Commented Oct 1, 2021 at 6:37

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