I had hoped never to write about selfies again. They already feel so last year, notwithstanding the emergence of their farming offspring felfie. But there is an increasing trend for one more type of selfie, so I felt duty bound to record it in the annals of Wordability.
Basically, celebrities have been taking photos of their bottoms and posting them on social media. Belfies, as they have become known, first appeared at the end of 2013, but are being written about now in increasing numbers, with luminaries such as Ireland Baldwin, Pascal Craymer and Lucy Watson (no, I’ve never heard of any of them either) eager to get in on the act.
The derivation of Belfie is pretty straightforward – Bum and Selfie combined into a hilarious whole. But without wishing to be pedantic (not true), this formation is inaccurate. A Selfie is a photo taken of yourself, by yourself. Having looked at some Belfies, for research purposes only you understand, it seems to be anatomically impossible for most of these bottoms to have been photographed by the people to whom they belong. The only person I can think of with arms long enough to actually take a proper Belfie is Mr Tickle, and given the absence of orange blobs appearing in the Belfie annals, it seems he hasn’t succumbed yet.
So while Belfie might be around for some time to come, spend a moment realising that the word itself should not be defined as a photo taken by yourself of your own bottom. All that you could really photograph with normal arms might be encapsulated with a much more graphic word, which coincidentally ends up being a very useful term for describing people who put these images out on social media.
Words which originate from internet crazes are usually fairly harmless. Tebowing a couple of years ago, when people imitated American Football Star Tim Tebow’s victory pose in random places, was nothing more than harmless fun. Planking, where people lie down in random places, was also fun, but did lead to tragedies when people tried the activity in dangerous places.
But there seems to be nothing harmless about Neknomination, the latest craze sweeping social media and claiming lives in the process. If somebody is neknominated, then they are required to drink a large quantity of alcohol quickly and then post the video online to prove that they have done it. So potent are some of the cocktail combinations that people are drinking, that deaths have occurred as a result, and the word Neknomination is rapidly establishing itself as a key new word of 2014.
There is already a linguistic alternative, with Raknomination being spawned to mean nominating someone to do a random act of kindness, rather than risk their life with a drink. But in many ways, it will be good if this word does not get established, as it would probably imply that neknomination has disappeared from common usage once more.
Many internet crazes suggest that people have too much time on their hands, or feel the need to do stupid things to get a sense of belonging or social connection in their lives. What does it say about our society that people feel the need to swallow dangerous amounts of alcohol just to satisfy a dare?
I have always had a bit of an aversion to the suffix gate to denote a controversy. Two years ago I bemoaned its every-growing influence when the story of David Cameron, Rebekah Brooks and a horse hit the headlines and Horsegate was everywhere.
I ducked out altogether a few months later when the controversy over Government chief whip Andrew Mitchell, a gate and the claim he had called a policeman a pleb saw Plebgate enter common language and never go away again. I think the fact that this scandal was also referred to as Gategate just confirmed why I just find this coinage irritating.
But gate shows no sign of going away, and what might once have been a specifically English linguistic formation is now crossing into other languages. Gate as a suffix has been named as Germany’s Anglicism of the Year for 2013.
The panel noted that gate as a suffix has been used in Germany since Watergate in the 1970s, the scandal which gave rise to the whole gate industry, but it is only the last couple of years that it has really become commonplace, with more than a dozen gate scandals in the public eye in 2013. I can only wonder what Eggnog Gate was about.
Other Anglicisms which came into consideration were Fake as a prefix, Whistleblower, the ever-popular Selfie and Hashtag.
While awards like this are a bit of fun, they do point to the ever changing nature not just of English but also of other languages in the way that English is now influencing them. Once again, our increasing globalisation, and in particular the effects of the internet and social media, are confirming that the influences which affect language change are different to those of even five years ago, while change is increasingly a quick affair. Previous winners of this German prize, such as Crowdfunding and Shitstorm, show that as words become new and established in English so the best ones will almost jump across species and establish themselves within another tongue.
This has always happened, but the speed of adoption and the way that an increasing number of terms now seem to be establishing themselves in more than one language at the same time confirms yet again that we are in a fascinating era for language development, and the old rules are now being rewritten. And that’s a really exciting development to watch. Unless there is a gate involved, of course.