Selfie Wins Oxford Vote

When Selfie was included in Oxford Dictionaries Online earlier this year, I commented that I had been looking for a good reason to write about a word that was clearly gaining in usage and was pleased to have an excuse.

Well its status has now been cemented after Oxford Dictionaries announced it as its word of the year for 2013. Although coined in 2002, with the first usage cited in Australia, it is only in the last 12 months that selfies have really made it into the mainstream, with people’s phone-taken self-portraits really forcing their way into public consciousness and national newspapers. Oxford noted that usage of selfie has risen 17,000% over the last 12 months.

Other words on the shortlist included some others featured on Wordability during 2013, including virtual currency Bitcoin; Showrooming, the practice of looking at goods in a store before buying them online; Olinguito, a newly discovered mammal; and Twerk, the dance craze beloved of all tabloids and a word that I am delighted was not chosen for this linguistic accolade. The other shortlisted words were Schmeat, for synthetic meat; Binge-watching, the habit of watching multiple episodes of a single TV show in one sitting; and the always controversial Bedroom Tax.

I think it has been a hard year for choosing a word of the year. Oxford’s choice of Omnishambles last year and Squeezed Middle the year before really summed up society as a whole at that time and gave a keen insight into the state of the nation. This year it has proved harder to find a word that really encapsulates the country’s mood. Perhaps the choice of Selfie suggests that society itself is not as coherent as it was 12 months ago and we are more fractured and individualistic, obsessed with ourselves at the expense of others. In that sense, Selfie perhaps sums up some of the isolation of modern life. Or it may just be a British thing. Dutch experts have chosen Participatiesamenleving – participation society, a society where people take control of their own lives, as the Dutch word of the year.

I have been pondering the word of the year myself and will reveal Wordability‘s choice next week. At this stage, I am happy to reveal it is not Selfie. I will also be revealing details of a brand new book of the year to follow last year’s Eastwooding with the Mother Flame: The Words of 2012, which remains available on Amazon.

Selfies Come of Age

I have been pondering the word Selfie recently. Though not coined this year, it seems to have really emerged into public awareness in the last few months, with a number of mainstream publications focusing on the growth of them or the problems associated with their increasing prevalence. I have been weighing up writing about it for the last few weeks.

A Selfie, in case you don’t know, is a photograph that you take of yourself, normally with your phone, and then share with nearest and dearest via social media. A trend for some time, 2013 is the year when it has become cemented in the English language.

Oxford Dictionaries agrees. In the latest quarterly update to Oxford Dictionaries Online, Selfie has proudly taken its place as a new word. It’s one of a number of words that have taken a refreshingly short time to reach Oxford’s online annals, with Phablet, Space Tourism and Street Food others which seem to have been recognised relatively quickly.

There are also a couple of Wordability favourites making their debuts. Bitcoin was recognised earlier this year as an important word in the ongoing financial saga around the world, while last year’s triumphant Omnishambles has now sealed its emergence with its own entry.

Overall, it is an entertaining update. The challenge now is to write a coherent sentence feature Babymoon, Vom, Twerk, Flatform and Digital Detox. After all of that, I’ll need a glass of Pear Cider.

The Top Words of 2012

And so the time has come for Wordability to reveal its word of the year. But I’m not quite going to do that. Because I don’t think that one word does justice to 2012. So in total, Wordability has five words of the year. And a new book – but more of that anon.

The danger of picking one word is that it only tells some of the story. The Oxford Dictionary choice of Omnishambles absolutely gives us a word that says a great deal about 2012. But what about the Olympics, and that incredible feeling that careered across Britain throughout that glorious summer. To ignore that is to miss a part of the year.

And should we go with a new word or something old which has resurfaced? Wordability has shown over the year that brand new words and redefinitions of existing words are equally important when it comes to semantic change in the English language. So I think it is important to include both.

So without further faffing, here are my top five words of the year:

New Words of the Year

Mother Flame: The journey of the Olympic Flame started the Olympics for real for most people in the UK, and the crowds who lined the streets throughout the country to see it were surprisingly large and enthusiastic. The whole process spawned a raft of new words associated with the procession.  Mother Flame, the original flame travelling with the torch and used to relight it when it went out, was my favourite.

Eastwooding: An odd choice? Yes. Eastwooding as a word was never destined to last more than five minutes. And yet what a five minutes. Spawned by Clint Eastwood’s extraordinary empty chair conversation with Barack Obama at the Republican Convention, Eastwooding became a social phenomenon as people raced to share photographs of themselves interacting with unoccupied items of furniture. I have chosen it as a word of the year because in many ways it is the quintessential demonstration of how a new word can arrive and thrive in our interconnected world. And then, just as quickly, fall off a cliff.

Gangnam Style: The music sensation of the year and a phrase that has entered the language. You only have to hear of anybody dancing Gangnam Style to know what kind of performance they are putting in, and plenty of famous people have been queuing up for their five minutes of strutting their horse-like stuff.

 Re-emergence of the Year

There were two contenders for this. Omnishambles, as we know, curried favour elsewhere. But I have plumped for Ineptocracy, a term for a form of government in which those utterly incapable seem to grab the top jobs. Like Omnishambles, it sums up the slightly random state of Government which seems to prevail in many countries this year, and the attitude towards them from the people. And from a Wordability point of view, Ineptocracy is the most viewed article and most searched for term across the blog in 2012, so it is clearly a word demanding of attention.

Redefinition of the Year

No dispute about this one – the furore over Misogyny in Australia takes this award. The global argument this led to about what the true definition of the word is, and whether Australian lexicographers were right to amend their definition, really encapsulates what semantic shifts tell us about changes in society.

So these are my top five, but so many other words have caught my attention – Goalgasm, Lesula, Papple, Marmageddon, Swapportunity to name just a few of my favourites – that even a list like this does not do it justice.

So I have produced a book of the words of the year, which is available right now from the Kindle Store on Amazon, just by clicking here. In it you will find more on all these words, and a great deal more. It’s a portrait of not only the language change of the year but a picture of what has really mattered to us as a society over the last 12 months.

A Shambles of a Year

In many ways, the Oxford Dictionary choice of Omnishambles as the word of the year is an excellent one. It’s a great word, it sums up the mood of the times and it has become hugely popular during 2012.

But I can’t help being a little disappointed. As I said some months ago when the word flew back into public consciousness, it is not an original 2012 word. Omnishambles was actually coined in 2009 in the political comedy The Thick of It, and only now has it crossed from the Westminster to the global village. It would have been much more satisfying if the OED word of the year was one that came into being this year, as previous winners have been, rather than one which has simply been popularised.

I also wonder about the Oxford relationship with Labour leader Ed Miliband. Last year’s winner, Squeezed Middle, was coined by Mr Miliband, while the first recorded use this year also came from him, during Prime Minister’s Questions. Clearly we need to listen to what young Ed says next year if we want to take bets on the winner for 2013.

I was certainly surprised by the OED’s US word of the year, GIF, a computing term which has been around for a quarter of a century. They said it had really come into its own in 2012. But I must say in the tracking I have been doing throughout the year, it was not something I had really paid attention to.

There were some good words on the two shortlists, with Games Makers, To Medal, and Mobot representing the Olympics, and pleb reminding us of Andrew Mitchell. In the US I was pleased to see perennial Wordability favourite Nomophobia, fear of losing your mobile phone, under consideration.

Of course it is easy to carp. What are your words of the year, I hear you saying? Well fear not. I shall reveal my words of the year in the next couple of weeks, together with a very special announcement. And even though Omnishambles has certainly been on my shortlist as well, I can confirm now that it won’t be the winner.

Collins Makes The Dictionary Democratic

A new initative by Collins dictionaries could change the way that dictionaries are compiled forever. The company is asking members of the public to submit words to be considered for future editions.

Submission is clearly not a guarantee of success – all suggested words are put through the same rigorous assessment that a word selected by an editor would then undergo. But the amount of coverage this story has received, together with the number of words being suggested, shows just how interested people are in the evolution of English and the new words that are constantly emerging.

It is also encouraging to see some of the words being suggested, with Wordability favourites such as omnishambles and Tebowing battling with cyberstalking, amazeballs and mantyhose for attention. At this stage, nobody knows how many of these will finally be accepted. But if they are, it will prove that the acceptance process is becoming as quick as it needs to be in the age of the internet.

The level of interest has been something of a surprise to Alex Brown, the head of digital at Harper Collins. Wordability spoke to him shortly after the launch of the What’s Your Word initiative, and during the conversation, the 2,000th word was submitted. It was prairiedogged, the feeling of helplessness that overtakes you when co-workers in neighbouring cubicles constantly pop their heads up to ask you trivial, silly or frivolous questions. It was subsequently rejected by editors.

Its rejection confirms that this is still serious dictionary-making, with the submission process the only part which has been opened up. Alex told me: “This isn’t Urban Dictionary. We still have a team of editors and researchers who moderate to see if the words meet the minimum level of criteria and we are not changing that as we see it as a strength. The site opens a window on that whole process.”

He said that while they expected to receive words from technology and social media, there have been some surprises. “We have been surprised by the number of regional dialect words, and some of them are difficult to find evidence of because they are spoken not written. The global nature has also been a surprise, with quite a lot of words from India, for example, which are concepts around religion or food.”

Alex said that What’s Your Word will now be a permanent feature of the Collins process. At the moment, words which are approved still have to wait a few weeks to receive their dictionary stripes, but in time, he would like to see that process made live.

One of the advantages of this process is that words can now reach dictionaries quicker. I have often bemoaned how slow the Oxford English Dictionary is to accept new words, and while Collins will still have the final say, What’s Your Word will perform the vital process of recognising that language change itself has changed, and that the dictionary process needs to evolve along with that.

Another Fine Shambles For Romney

Mitt Romney is rapidly emerging as Wordability’s most unlikely hero. Who knew! He has already charmed us with his caring attitude towards his dog, and delighted us by not knowing the name of the country he is trying to lead.

Now, as he winds his gaffe-strewn way across the globe, to ensure that everyone knows exactly who he is before November’s election, he might be wishing he had stayed at home. His questioning of London’s readiness and enthusiasm for the Olympics, followed by increasingly desperate attempts to limit the damage, rapidly saw his trip labelled a Romneyshambles.

It’s wonderful to see a clever neologism like this making some headway, building as it does on Omnishambles’ re-emergence into public consciousness earlier this year. In a single word, the would-be president’s efforts are distilled, summed up and spat out, and it satisfies every opponent’s desire for a linguistic stick with which they can beat him.

Mr Romney must have thought his surname made him pun-proof. Who knew!