Selfie word of the year for Oxford Dictionaries

by | Nov 19, 2013 | News

By Jessica Paiva

Oxford Dictionaries announced “selfie” as their international Word of the Year for 2013 on Tuesday morning.

The word “selfie”, defined as a “photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website,” has increased in frequency by 17 thousand percent since this time last year, according to Oxford Dictionaries.

Judy Pearsall, editorial director for Oxford Dictionaries, explains the decision in Oxford Dictionaries’ release.

“Using the Oxford Dictionaries language research programme, which collects around 150 million words of current English in use each month, we can see a phenomenal upward trend in the use of “selfie” in 2013, and this helped to cement its selection as Word of the Year.”

Eliana Pereira, a former York University English student, told Humber News the word shouldn’t have been added to

“I think that’s completely ridiculous,” she said. “We, as a society, shouldn’t encourage the popularization of slang words as real words. That’s like saying that ‘lol’ will become an official word,” she said.

“I think there is a fine line between true English and slang and we shouldn’t blur it. I don’t want the next generation to grow up in a world where random words have become part of their language. Next thing we know, it will be perfectly acceptable to put smiley faces anywhere throughout your sentence,” Pereira said.

Sally Cooper, an English communications professor at Humber College and author of Love Object and Tell Everything, told Humber News she uses the term frequently.

“My children and I send each other selfies when we’re apart. The word is cute and affectionate and evokes the in-the-moment intimacy and informality of sending someone a self-taken cellphone picture,” she said.

The term “selfie” was invented in Sept. 2002 after an Australian man first used the word in a forum posting describing a photograph taken while drunk at a birthday party.

“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,” said the posting. “I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

The Australian who used the term, a university student who called himself “Hopey,” posted the “selfie” while seeking advice about stitches in his lips.


The forum was labeled “Dissolvable stitches” and appeared on the website of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

New York-based author of One May Weekend and Carnival Week, Joe Vigliotti, told Humber News having the term as word of the year is “nonsense.”

“”Selfie” is a cultural trend word that may or may not fade out over time, but its indispensability to the English language is nonexistent. Making it the word of the year is the attempt to be, or to remain relevant in an age where relevance is fleeting – often within days or weeks of something becoming ‘popular’,” Vigliotti said.

Keshav Bharti, a Humber College graduate, spoken word artist and slam poet told Humber News that he would more likely use the term lyrically than poetically.

“It depends on the audience and the type of piece it is. It’s not typical for me to need to use a term like “selfie”,” said Bharti. “Even in a case where I did use it, I’d probably use it ironically.”

Stephanie McLellan, author of Hoodie in the Middle and Tweezle into Everything told Humber News that she would resist using the term “selfie” in her books in an effort to not date what she writes.

“I am aware that this term has been around for over 10 years and that usage spiked in the last two, but the very nature of Oxford’s selection criteria for word of the year suggests that the word has a position in time. Arguably the term “selfie” is a bit different because it refers to an act that can transcend a specific type of hardware as people will likely always take photos of themselves and their friends in this way, but it still feels to me like a term that is positioned in today where I would want my fiction to keep resonating tomorrow,” said McLellan.

Chandra Hodgson, English communications professor at Humber College, told Humber News she would allow students to use the word “selfie” in a paper.

“Language is a living organism that changes with the times, adapting to innovations in technology and culture.  It’s exciting when neologisms allow us to be creative and precise in our writing,” she said.

Other English communications professors at Humber College agree with Hodgson.

“I would certainly permit, and even encourage, my students to use the term in context. In fact, this presents a teachable opportunity in regard to contextualization, about what is, or what is not, appropriate in an academic context,” said Christina Hunter, an English communications professor at Humber College with a doctorate in English from the University of Southern Mississippi.

“I have learned that context, phrasing, and usage play an important pedagogical role in the classroom. Educators should be responsive to the way students use language, and the way language is changing,” Hunter added.

“I would certainly allow students to use “selfie” in their written assignments if they were following the requirements of a particular rhetorical context; in a formal academic paper, for instance, they would also have to define “selfie” for readers who might not be familiar with that term,” said English communications Humber College professor Karen Golets-Pancer.

“Yes, I would definitely allow students to use the word in a written assignment, especially now that we know it is officially a part of the English language. However, since it is a relatively new term, I would encourage them to use it in quotes – “selfie” – to highlight its coinage. I would also expect them to define the word as a way of being sensitive to diverse audiences,” said an English communications at Humber College professor Prasad Bidaye.

“These kinds of events are wonderful because they serve as proof that the English language is growing and never fully cut off from the street. That said, it’s still important to remember the importance of formality and audience settings,” he added.

The word selfie is not in the Oxford English Dictionary, although it may be added in the future.

The Word of the Year shortlist

There was some stiff competition for Oxford Dictionaries’ top word including schmeat, binge-watch and twerk.

The shortlisted words for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 are:

bedroom tax, noun, informal:

(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, verb:

to watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming. [ORIGIN 1990s: from BINGE + WATCH, after BINGE-EAT, BINGE-DRINK.]

bitcoin, noun:

a digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank. Also, a unit of bitcoin. [ORIGIN early 21st century: from BIT, in the computing sense of “a unit of information” and COIN.]

olinguito, noun:

a small furry mammal found in mountain forests in Colombia and Ecuador, the smallest member of the raccoon family. [ORIGIN 2013: diminutive form of OLINGO, a South American mammal resembling the kinkajou.]

schmeat, noun, informal:

a form of meat produced synthetically from biological tissue. [ORIGIN early 21st century: perhaps from SYNTHETIC and MEAT, influenced by the use of “- -, schm – -” as a disparaging or dismissive exclamation.]

showrooming, noun:

the practice of visiting a shop or shops in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price. [ORIGIN early 21st century: from SHOWROOM, “a room used to display goods for sale”.]

twerk, verb:

dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance. [ORIGIN 1990s: probably an alteration of WORK.]

Past 5 years Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in U.K. and U.S.

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