On November 19, 2013, Oxford Dictionaries declared “selfie” as its International Word of the Year 2013. On New Year’s Day, 2014, “selfie” was nominated by people around the globe to the top of Lake Superior State University’s (LSSU) annual list of Words Banished from the Queen’s English for Mis-use, Over-use and General Uselessness.
How quickly the mighty have fallen.
“People have taken pictures of themselves for almost as long as George Eastman’s company made film and cameras,” wrote Lawrence from Coventry, Connecticut, and Ryan from North Andover, Massachessets, when nominating selfie for banishment. “Suddenly, with the adevent of smartphones, snapping a ‘pic’ of one’s own image has acquired a vastly overused term that seems to pop up on almost every form of social media available to us ... A self-snapped picture need not have a name of its own beyond ‘photograph.’ It may only be a matter of time before photos of one’s self and a friend become ‘dualies.’ LSSU has an almost self-imposed duty to carry out this banishment now.”
According to the Oxford press release announcing its new word of the year, the frequency of selfie in the English language has increased by 17,000 per cent since 2012. Selfie now appears on the website OxfordDictionaries.com, but has not yet made it to the pages of the Oxford English Dictionary, although it is being considered for future inclusion.
Selfie was traced back by the Oxford editors to 2002 when it was used in an Australian online forum. The commentary with the photograph posted to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation forum was; “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.”
I wonder how often a new word is spawned from the drunken mishap of an Aussie and his beer-addled ramblings? Still, Australians — intoxicated or otherwise — have been responsible for many ie words, such as barbie for barbecue, firie for firefighter and tinnie for a can of beer. Perhaps with their tongues’ muscles inhibited by alcohol, it’s too difficult for Australians to actually use accepted English versions of words when describing common items. On the other hand, Aussies have a love-hate relationship with the British monarchy, and making snippet versions of the Queen’s English words may just be a stealthy act of rebellion against the Crown.
“The word (selfie) gained momentum throughout the English-speaking world in 2013 as it evolved from a social media buzzword to mainstream shorthand for a self-portrait photograph,” according to the Oxford release. “Its linguistic productivity is already evident in the creation of numerous related spin-off terms showcasing particular parts of the body like helpie (a picture of one’s hair) and belfie (a picture of one’s posterior); a particular activity — welfie (workout selfie) and drelfie (drunken selfie), and even items of furniture — shelfie and bookshelfie.”
Be warned, Lawrence and Ryan that it’s merely a matter of time for “dualie” to go viral (a banished word on LSSU’s 2011 list) on social media networks as a result of your mere mention of its possibilities.
The LSSU banished word list is more tongue-in-cheek, good-natured fun than having the clout to have words suddenly disappear from everyday usage.
For example, Lisa from New York wrote to the university: “Myselfie disparages the word because it’s too selfie-serving. But enough about me, how about yourselfie?”
Many words and phrases nominated are just too silly to survive and so vanish on their own. How many people remember clearly ambiguous, which was nominated in 1994, or Vannatized, which was nominated in 1988. News anchor Ted Koppel on ABC’s Nightline said in 1987, “America has been Vannatized,” a reference to then popular Vanna White, the letter-turner on Wheel of Fortune, who said absolutely nothing on-screen at the time but still became the darling of American TV viewers.
Another word that made the Oxford Dictionaries Online list in 2013 that earned nominations in this year’s LSSU list is twerk/twerking — now associated with Miley Cyrus’ MTV Musical Video Awards sexually provocative performance, although it was popularized by others as a dance style in the 1990s. In 1993, DJ Jubilee recorded the dance tune, Do The Jubilee All, in which he chanted, “Twerk baby, twerk baby, twerk, twerk, twerk.”
“Let’s just keep with ‘shake yer booty’ — no need to ‘twerk’ it! Hi ho, hi ho, it’s away with twerk we must go,” wrote Michael from Haslett, Michigan, when nominating the word for the banishment list.
“I twitch when I hear twerk, for to twerk proves one is a jerk — or at least twitching like a jerk,” added Lisa from New York. “Twerking has brought us to a new low in our lexicon.”
“Time to dance this one off the stage,” according to Jim from Flagstaff, Arizona.
Another word that made the list is hashtag, which used to be called the pound symbol, but has since been renamed as it made its way into the Twittersphere (a word people also nominated for banishment this year) with its limitation to 140 characters.
“Typed on sites that use them, that’s one thing,” commented Kuahmel of Gardena, California. “When verbally spoken, hashtag-itgetsoldquickly. So, hashtag-knockitoff.”
“#sickoftheword,” added Brian from Toronto.
In 1983, Michael Keaton appeared in a comedy movie called Mr. Mom. Thirty years later, Mr. Mom, when used to discribe a stay-at-home father, received nearly as many nominations for banishment as selfie and twerk.
“It was a funny movie in its time,” said nominator Pat from Chicago, “but the phrase should only refer to the film, not to men in the real world. It is an insult to the millions of dads who are the primary cargivers for their children. Would we tolerate calling working women Mrs. Dad?”
Zachary from East Providence, Rhode Island, was a little more blunt in his commentary: “I am a stay-at-home dad/parent. And if you call me ‘Mr. Mom,’ I will punch you in the throat.” Ouch!
Another word on this year’s list is T-bone, a popular everyday word for a type of vehicular accident that is now used in news reports. In effect, the media has accepted making a verb out of a cut of meat to describe a car crash. In the category, Suffering Suffixes, advertisers and news agencies have taken two words — armageddon and apocalypse — and applied shortened versions to other words, such as in promoting a “car-ageddon” sale or describing a blizzard as a “snow-pocalypse.”
English is a highly-adaptable language that constantly accepts new words and phrases, but sometimes the suggestions border on the outright ridiculous or the downright idiotic.
Meanwhile, I think I’ll take a break to take a selfie for selfie-ish reasons.