And Oxford Dictionaries’ Word of the Year Is …

Hint: It's three letters long and rhymes with the name of a certain 'Back to the Future' villain.

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A telling part of our modern recapping tradition is choosing “words of the year.” In 1789, lexicographers probably would have gone with guillotine. In 1912, iceberg surely would have been a contender. And for 2012, Oxford Dictionaries settled on GIF.

That’s GIF the verb, derived from GIF the file extension. These days, people often GIF snippets of movies or speeches to create funny little moving pictures on Tumblrs like this one. “The GIF, a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, looping animations, turned 25 this year,” notes Oxford University Press’ Katherine Martin, “but like so many other relics of the 80s, it has never been trendier.” (You know, like Betty White.)

(MORE: The 2011 Word of the Year: ‘Squeezed Middle’)

Runners-up included superstorm, super PAC and Eurogeddon, shorthand for the feared financial collapse of countries using the Euro. Oxford Dictionaries, a trendy scion of the honorable Oxford English Dictionary, also announced their British “Word of the Year”: omnishambles. Officially defined as a situation “characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations,” this pithy counterpart to Murphy’s Law has become a favorite in the U.K. for describing politics.

Last year, Oxford Dictionaries chose squeezed middle, a reference to people between the super-rich and super-poor who are supposed to be particularly vulnerable to financial shifts. It was, as one observer put it, a “sober list for sober times.” The phrase told us that the economy, and the struggles it caused, were the number-one story in 2011, at least so far as one band of wordsmiths was concerned.

So what does GIF tell us about 2012? Given that dictionary additions and buzzword lists have been dominated by technology-related terms in recent years, it may just be a sign that things are getting back to normal. Of course, the runners-up bring a certain amount of sobriety to the field. But the selection still seems to herald a post-recession era — a world where instead of counting pennies, we’re free to goof off on Reddit all day.

MORE: Thanks, Sarah Palin: ‘Refudiate’ Dubbed 2010 Word of the Year

37 comments
VernEide
VernEide

How about Enhanced Integrated Drive Electroics, EIDE? There's a four-letter word you won't hear Howard Stern using every day.

JimLindstrom
JimLindstrom

For me, GIF is quite an iconic Word of the Year, with a number of interesting connections. It's initials incapsulate  an incomprehensible for me "Graphics Interchange Format", which could be pronounced jif as in jiffy or gif as in gift. But more pertinent, it recognizes a burgeoning word category nesting under "antonyms," and "neonyms" (new names) and more specifically "prononyms", pronounceable names. Lots of made-up names out there, but this is the first neonym named a WOTY.

frizztext
frizztext

Austerity

in Europe something like in centuries before: devil

EdEllis
EdEllis

Isn't a Gif something you give someone for a special occasion ?

pendragon05
pendragon05

Too bad nobody knows how to pronounce GIF.

But maybe that's why it's been made word of the year.

JohnBlackadder
JohnBlackadder

Perhaps you conflated Oxford Dictionaries and Oxford English Dictionary!

They are not the same.

JohnBlackadder
JohnBlackadder

Did you get the wrong word of the year?

BBC reports that it is "omnishambles"

KrisRosvold
KrisRosvold

Well... I've just lost ALL respect for the current generation of OED.  "GIF" is NOT a word, it is and ABBREVIATION of "Graphic Information File.  OED FAIL!

SangHoonMoon
SangHoonMoon

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cocobinay
cocobinay

@kevmatt @RichardMcCrea 

I think nowadays, if enough people popularize any nonsensical word, it will become "the word of the year"!! In the era of "going trendy or viral" we have learned to squeeze some sense out of anything that captures the attention of the masses. It's a trap that has been tough to avoid for many once-authoritative sources, because they now have to sound "hip" to get everyone's attention.

Which doesn't mean, by a long shot, that they continue to be relevant.

InfraredIntellx
InfraredIntellx

I've never heard GIF used as a verb. I've heard "gifify" used when someone is requesting a video be turned into a GIF but honestly never as a verb itself. Does OED have an example sentence using GIF as a verb?

HughBlanton
HughBlanton

How ironic it is that the first time I hear of GIF being used as a verb is when it is selected as the word of the year.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Katy. Too bad "Obamacare" didn't make the list; it sure got a LOT of attention this election. On the other hand, hopefully back in 1789, no one lost their heads arguing over whether or not "guillotine" should make the cut.

RichardMcCrea
RichardMcCrea

The OED used to be the definitive source for all matters grammatical and lexicographical.  GIF is not very newsworthy and in no way indicative of 2012.  With the role of the Internet, no one pays attention to these tomes of old.  BYE BYE OED, you have proven yourself worthy of the extinction heading your way.

kevmatt
kevmatt

They do know that GIF is a acronym for Graphics Interchange Format. Since when do we call acronyms words.  Way to dumb down the English language even more.  I wonder how many people could even tell you what an acronym is anymore.

Rotkang Job
Rotkang Job

Sends-take note of that mistake please.

Rotkang Job
Rotkang Job

....I would like you guys to endose or support it.Thank you.

Rotkang Job
Rotkang Job

My word of the year would be SOCIOVANGELIST.The word is a noun.The word describes a person who preaches,post or send positive messages on a social medium or media-social networking site like Facebook,Twitter regulary or over a fixed span of time.I would..

adnan7631
adnan7631

GIF as a verb? Are you kidding me????

Joe Kloos
Joe Kloos

Well, that's an......interesting choice. I blame Tumblr.

JimLindstrom
JimLindstrom

@VernEide   It took me a while to catch on to your aptonym, so I might also suggest celebration of VE Day.

JimLindstrom
JimLindstrom

@VernEide   How about DUDE--Digging Under Digital Electronics--a somewhat more than sternish acronym. (I'm assuming you mishit the n)

JeramieH3
JeramieH3

> if enough people popularize any nonsensical word

Isn't that how language evolves in the first place?

JimLindstrom
JimLindstrom

@kevmatt   Aha kevmatt! Acronyms are bigger than words--In our internet universe they condense concepts, titles, messages, promotions, installing hypercondesensiaryadinfinitum into tiny rememberable nyms. They focus our attention, they capture our compreapprehension, and save a lot of ink.

Justsayin
Justsayin

@kevmatt hmmmmmm...how about scuba....or laser....or posh (although there is some debate about that one)?  These are the ones I could think of off the top of my head.  I'm certain there are lots more.  This is the evolution of our language. You don't have to agree with it but the only "dumbing down" appears to come from your side of the argument.

djmeyer
djmeyer

@kevmatt It's not dumbing down the english language. Words evolve over time and can change from nouns to verbs. Take "google" for example, it's a number that came to be known as a search engine that came to be a verb "Let me google that for you". This isn't anything new and it's not dumbing down anything