It’s clearly not enough for phubbing to have emerged as the best new word of the year. It’s now got the best story as well.
Phubbing – phone snubbing – exploded internationally a couple of months ago. Publications across the globe, Wordability included, reported on how a Melbourne student had spotted the growing trend for people to pay more attention to their phones than other people in social settings and had set up a campaign and the Stop Phubbing website in response. The response to the story was so big that the word quickly became entrenched, and is now even on Oxford Dictionaries radar, as revealed exclusively to Wordability.
It now turns out that the story behind phubbing is a little different. It was in fact the brainchild of an advertising agency, designed to raise excitement about words and ultimately sell print copies of the new Macquarie dictionary.
The McCann agency actually created the word Phubbing during a brainstorming session in May 2012 – a video showing the process has now been released, and the efforts involved perhaps go some way towards demonstrating why the word is so damn good. A lot of brains gathered together to come up with it.
Once the word was established, the website and social media tools swiftly followed. But it wasn’t until Australia’s Herald Sun ran a piece on phone etiquette that the word really took off. Alex Haigh, the alleged student behind the phenomenon but actually an account executive with McCann, contacted the paper to push the Stop Phubbing campaign, and the rest is viral history.
So now that the truth is out there, do I feel slightly hoodwinked? Well a little bit, yes. The romance of the original story has been lost, innocent student conquers the world with his great new word, washed away by advertising agency plans careful viral marketing campaign and worms its way into our consciousness.
But that analysis isn’t really fair. Regardless of its genesis, the rise of phubbing has still demonstrated all that is good about modern word formation. It filled a semantic gap, it’s a great word in its own right and its establishment confirms that the way that words evolve and become established is now utterly different to how it was even a few years ago.
And those behind it agree. The official video, ‘A Word is Born’, is a wonderful watch. If you don’t believe me, take a look for yourself, it is embedded at the bottom of this article.
Susan Butler, publisher and editor of Macquarie Dictionary, said: “The rise of phubbing as an original coinage has been a wonderful illustration of the process by which my word becomes your word becomes our word until finally it is a word which belongs to us all.” McCann executive director John Mascell added: “A Word is Born is a love story about words, and how incredible they are.”
And ultimately, that’s the great thing about this. Yes it comes from marketing, yes it might sell some dictionaries, but the phubbing story tells us so much more than that. It reminds us that language is always changing in new and wonderful ways.