Every year, Oxford Dictionaries names a Word of the Year, the word “that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.” The winner for 2013 is “selfie.”
Selfie has certainly had a big year. Suddenly everyone seems to be spreading the news about haircuts, vacations, engagements, or even just the weather outside by posting self-snapped photos of themselves on social media. According to Oxford Dictionaries Editorial Director Judy Pearsall, there has been “a phenomenal upward trend in the use of ‘selfie’ in 2013.” Though the word has been around for a while – they have traced the first use back to an Australian web forum in 2002 – it didn’t come into widespread use until 2012. Ever since, both the word, and the practice it describes, have increased in frequency with every passing minute.
In the early days, selfie was often spelled “selfy,” but it later settled into the arguably cuter -ie ending. Pearsall points out that “the use of the diminutive -ie suffix is notable, as it helps to turn an essentially narcissistic enterprise into something rather more endearing.” Nothing nefarious going on here. Just cuties being sweeties taking selfies.
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Compared to the other finalists for Word of the Year, selfie certainly is the most upbeat and accessible. “Bitcoin,” a virtual currency, “olinguito,” a newly discovered mammal, and “schmeat,” fake meat grown in a laboratory, are still obscure to most people. And while “twerk” has entered the general consciousness this year as a word, it remains inaccessible as a practice to all but the most limber among us. “Showrooming,” checking out products in a store before going home to buy them online, and “binge-watching,” watching multiple episodes of a TV show in one sitting, have suffused our culture and the way we live now, but the words make us feel a little unattractive in the way they seem to call up the image of a bloated, ravenous consumer.
Then there’s the selfie. Light as an elf, darling as a pixie, and all about the self. A word that makes us feel pretty, just like a selfie should. How could it not be a winner?