The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has declared that “Selfie” will be the word of the year for 2013. It beat others on the shortlist including “twerk” “bitcoin”and “binge-watch” to become the word that most celebrates the inventiveness of our evolving English language.
To qualify for the honor of word of the year, the neologism does not necessarily have to have come into existence in the last 12 months but it needs to have shot to prominence in that time. “Selfie” certainly does that. Its usage went up by 17,000% this year.
The OED are defining “Selfie” as “a photograph that one has taken of oneself” which is rather splendidly English. One can almost imagine the queen saying it. Not to imply that Her Majesty is a regular selfie taker. The OED add “typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website.” Well, Instagram users will attest to that, it is now inundated with selfies.
Selfie has been around as a word since 2002, and it was coined in Australia, which is not surprising as Australians love to add an “ie” tag to abbreviated words, “barbie”,”cossie””Tazzie” etc. By 2004 the hashtag #selfie was appearing on Flickr but it never really went mainstream until 2012.
The picture of the Pope that went viral contributed to its global dissemination.Pope Francis has been an innovator in this department as well.
The OED select their new words from a web search of over 150 million words a month and then calculate the usage. The software tracks not just frequency but geographical spread.
Previous words of the year go like this:
2012 – omnishambles
2011 – occupy
2010 – app
2009 – tweet
2008 – credit crunch
2007 – default
2006 – plutoed
2004 – chav
2002 – weapons of mass destruction
In their own funny way they tell a history of the changing times.
Under the umbrella of the selfie are a whole host of sub-sects. Posing in front of the Mona Lisa for example, has become a genre since both Eminem and Diddy took selfies next to the portrait of the enigmatic lady, and the Louvre is now full of posers.
The Duckface is another well-known sub-bracket as beloved of Kim Kardashian, which involves a selfie with fully pouted lips. This lady also took a selfie of her own bottom which has become known as a “belfie.”
Judy Pearsall who is editorial director of OED said that the “ie” suffix was more endearing than the earlier spelling with a “y”. She claimed it helped turn “an essentially narcissistic enterprise” into something less so.
There are some situations where taking a selfie is pretty frowned upon. First and foremost among these is funerals. Driving along is another no-no, again for obvious reasons. Insensitive selfies have, sadly, included posts from places like Chernobyl and Auschwitz. Another callous selfie is one taken in front of a homeless person. Or one with someone else in the background that will be subject to ridicule without ever knowing it. Of course, selfie takers are not immune from having the mickey taken out of them either, the most characteristic way to do this is with a “photobomb.”
By Kate Henderson