Thursday, November 21, 2013

Word of the Year

This week no less an august body than the Oxford Dictionaries released their official Word of the Year.  I’m not going to keep you in suspense; the word is selfie.  It won against a tough field including such hot contenders as twerk.  I had no idea what the word meant, but I felt a good guess would be a person who is self-centered – maybe a selfish yuppie?  (I bet yuppie would have been a contender in its day.)  Well, there may be a narcissistic aspect to it, but actually a selfie is a photo you take of yourself.

Barry Hall's wonderful cartoon for the Word of the Year
In case you aren’t taking this seriously, I can assure you the selection process is quite strenuous.  Words are suggested, crawlers collect evidence working their way through websites, blogs, Facebook pages, sifting for new words which are used on multiple occasions.  Eventually a short list is obtained and investigated by a committee (of humans).  This year, it seemed that a consensus was reached rapidly and selfie was the clear winner.  I think what swung it for them was Michelle Obama taking a selfie of herself and her dog, and the pope involved in one.  (I have to say the argument seems weak to me; there is no evidence that Michelle used the word selfie to describe what she was doing, and the pope wasn’t even holding the camera.  But still.)

Michelle with Bo.  Pretty good selfie!
Not that taking a selfie is a recent idea; here the grand duchess Anastasia takes one circa 1914 using a Kodak Brownie and a mirror.  It’s the word that’s recent.

An early, but not very good, selfie
To be chosen, the word doesn’t have to be new.  In fact it may require some time to develop traction.  With dictionatorial thoroughness, the Oxford team investigates the word’s etymology, popularity, and earliest usage.  (Dictionatorial, of course, is not a word.  But if enough of us use it over the next year or so it could be in with a chance.)  Given the Australian love of diminutives, it isn’t too surprising that the judges tracked selfie’s first use down to a blog from the antipodes.  I’m grateful that they didn’t provide the selfie itself:

"Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer (sic) and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps.  I had a hole about 1 cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie."

The word comes into its own
With an introduction like that, you could tell the word was headed for the big time.  Still, there was competition.  Here’s the short list.  See how many you know or can guess the meaning:

             bedroom tax, noun, informal
·         binge-watch, verb
·         bitcoin, noun
·         olinguito, noun (There should be a prize for guessing this one.  How about a Kubu T-shirt for the best suggested meaning that ISN’T correct?)
·         schmeat, noun, informal
·         showrooming, noun (My personal favorite.  Don’t let your bookstore catch you at this!)
·         twerk, verb

This, of course, is NOT a selfie
By the way, last year’s winner was omnishambles.  That one I love!  (This post is a bit late because I was at the university about to post it when the power went off.  Their idea of a backup generator is a man with a flashlight.  A graduation ceremony was in progress.  It was an omnishambles!)

Selfie was added to the Oxford Dictionaries Online in August after the photo with the pope went viral, but is not yet in the Oxford English Dictionary.  Well, you have to draw the line somewhere.

Michael – Thursday.
You can find the meanings of the short listed words HERE.


  1. First off, 'olinguito' is OBVIOUSLY what a young spanish woman would cry out after experiencing a particularly good, but brief, cunilingus during her lunch break. Duh.

    Second, the picture of the Pope is OBVIOUSLY not a selfie, it's a picture of SELFING. Try to keep up.

    Third, I shudder to think what an omnishambles this column is going to become once Jeff bipedumpsin.

  2. Bedroom tax is what you pay if you come home late after serving as the subject of a binge-watch, and it will take more than a bit-coin and olinguito (I shudder at being tied into Everett's usage of the term so permit me to say it's a cross between a teddy bear and cat (thanks to Wikipedia)) to get your schmeat showrooming again at home as long as your better half thinks you're a twerk.

    Alone in's the best I could come up with.

    1. From summer in Mykonos to winter loneliness in Chicago... you have my udder sympathy!

  3. I think Everett gets the T-shirt! Jeff would get the award for the competition we didn't run...

    But I have to differ on Selfing. That is the act of TAKING a Selfie. So, by definition, it is a picture of the person holding the camera Selfing. But the pope is actually just an innocent bystander. Although even that would have been another pope...

  4. I vote for Everett. Though I fear reprisals from Jeff who may not understand my reasoning. I don't want to be misconscrewed.

  5. Time out here folks. I can see Everett milking this pun business for all it's worth, and Annamaria's reluctance to be misconscrewed (sounds sort of like a pageant title, doesn't it), but if silver fox Michael the Innocent is now dropping in ecclesiastical puns, I'm tempted to yell out "Holy See, Batman, we've got to stop this."