2015 was far more rat emoji than it was tears of laughter emoji

By Alex Heigl
Updated November 17, 2015 06:15 PM

This week, in either an excellent or terrible bit of stunt-choosing, the Oxford English Dictionary picked the “crying with laughter” emoji as its “Word of the Year.”

I suppose their argument is compelling: According to the Verge, the “Face with Tears of Joy” emoji (as it’s properly known) has experienced a swift rise. In 2014, it took up just four percent of all emoji use in the U.K., while this year, that number’s up to 20 percent.

But ducking the question of whether you can declare a graphic representation of a combination of emotions a “word,” there’s a more pressing issue at stake here.

The true word of the year in 2015 should be the rat emoji.

No, it shouldn’t be “rat.” “Rat” has too many meanings, too many shadings — it’s both a verb and a noun, for starters. But the rat emoji? That’s a very specific representation of 2015 that’s beautiful and simple and necessary.

It would be hard to deny the rat’s impact on online culture this year. First we were gifted with Pizza Rat, which broke out of the New York blogosphere ghetto to dominate the wider Internet in a very real and true way: Once you’ve been rewarded with a sexy costume version of yourself, you know you’ve made it.

The rat emoji is versatile: You can put a saxophone in front of it if you’re feeling musical, a beer in front of it if you want to party, or a slice of pizza in front of it if you want to eat some pizza. You can use any of those emojis by themselves, sure, but the real genius of the rat emoji is that it signifies a certain hunger, a specifically primal, powerful lust for pizza or beer or saxophones.

It’s weird it took the Internet this long to rally around a rat. It took until 2015 for society to realize that we’re not dogs or deer or pandas or any of the animals we love to anthropomorphize. We’re rats. We’re hungry and needy and we move in packs and we love pizza. We want to look down on rats, but we behave pretty much the same way they do: Mostly greedily and fearfully with brief interspersed moments of love and bonding.

2015 wasn’t a year where I spent a lot of time laughing until I thought I’d cry. I spent some time crying, sure, but it wasn’t from laughter. It was from all the usual stuff, like income inequality, terror (both domestic and foreign), systemized misogyny, man’s inhumanity to man, general sadness — you know, the usual. In fact, if I look back on 2015, a lot of things that happened this year are more likely to make me feel like a rat emoji without a slice of pizza emoji: Lost, persecuted, desperately seeking a few friends and maybe a saxophone. But man, I want that saxophone. And that pizza. And that’s gonna keep me going into 2016 and long after the tears have dried on the face of that other emoji.