And Oxford’s Word of the Year Is…

Hint: James Franco is probably taking one right now.

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A good “word of the year” will sum up our culture as it was during that particular orbit around the sun. Given that more and more tools are created every day that encourage us to focus on ourselves—to publicly share our opinions, our whereabouts, our calorie intakes, our playlists and our dogs’ mistakes—Oxford Dictionaries’ choice certainly seems to capture the zeitgeist: 2013 was a selfie year.

For those 9% of Americans who still don’t have a cell phone, this is how Oxford defines selfie:

(n.) a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website. 

Explaining why that word won the crown, Oxford editors note that usage of selfie has gone up 17,000% since this time last year. That’s according to their new word monitor, which scans web content and collects 150 million words each month. A dedicated team of editors thumbs through that data, which help determine when words should be welcomed into Oxford’s dictionaries. Though it so far hasn’t made the cut in the venerable Oxford English Dictionary, selfie was added to the hipper Oxford Dictionaries Online this August.

Oxford doesn’t require that a winning word come into existence during that calendar year, just that it “become prominent or notable in that time.” In 2013, selfie made it into countless headlines about celebrities and political scandals. It became the crux of museum exhibits dedicated to examining this modern form of digital expression (**adjusts monocle**). The word even made its debut on the judicial circuit, when a U.S. district court for North Carolina adopted TIME’s definition to support issuing a warrant for an alleged criminal’s cell phone.

The Oxford research team traced the usage of selfie back to 2002, when an Australian described a photo he or she had taken after landing “lip first” on a set of steps. What may have been the coinage of a hungover Aussie rambling in an online forum exploded over the past decade, helped along by the widespread adoption of smartphones. And the biggest bang in that explosion came this year. Just take a gander at this Google Trends chart showing search volumes for the term:

Selfie Google Trends

Oxford also released a shortlist of other words that didn’t quite make the cut. Among them are reminders of how digitally focused our lives have  become and proof that Miley Cyrus‘ death grip on the world’s attention doesn’t extend to lexicographers—yet. Some might even argue that “twerk” was robbed.

bedroom tax: (n., in the UK) a reduction in the amount of housing benefit paid to a claimant if the property they are renting is judged to have more bedrooms than is necessary for the number of the people in the household, according to criteria set down by the government.

binge-watch: (v.) to watch multiple episodes of a television program in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming.

bitcoin: (n.) a digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank. Also, a unit of bitcoin.

olinguito: (n.) a small furry mammal found in mountain forests in Colombia and Ecuador, the smallest member of the raccoon family.

schmeat: (n.) a form of meat  produced synthetically from biological tissue.

showrooming: (n.) the practice of visiting a shop or shops in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price.

twerk: (v.) dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.

2 comments
deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Katy, also feel free to loudly boast about your selfie definition making its way into legal precedent with the NC court ruling. That wasn't "TIME's definition," that was YOUR definition. Remember, corporations are NOT people (except for that Supreme Court ruling, but I digress), they don't have beating hearts (as they prove when they underpay workers and then fire them en masse, but I digress again), and they cannot write their own articles or create neopolisms. A real, live person like you has to do it, so brag away! "Yes, I did that." 

...and yes, I split an infinitive. Next time YOU face a whiny editor who complains about a split infinitive, feel free to quote Raymond Chandler verbatim: "...when I split an infinitive, (GD) it, I split it so it will remain split..." He will have your back.

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Thanks, Katy. I think "bitcoin" will be the next Big Word as it gains more media attention ...and government attention too, as your swampland teammate Jay Newton-Small posted today. Too bad Sarah Palin's influence is waning on the political world, else "sarahdipity" could make a comeback ("sarahdipity" - (n), political good fortune, no matter how much one mangles the English language). "Bedroom tax" sounds similar to "bedroom community" - a boring suburb where THAT (the bedroom), ahem, is the only place to find any entertainment (see "Depserate Housewives" reruns). I have been guilty of showrooming, I confess.