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.

Let’s Go Showrooming

I am not a fan of going shopping. For me, it is functional, get in there, get what you need, and get out again. A browse round a bookshop is fun, of course, but that’s about it.

The rise of online shopping has changed all of that. On the one hand, you don’t need to go shopping, you can just do it on the computer. On the other, you can go shopping any hour of day or night, you are no longer spared just because the doors have been locked.

Now I’m sure we have all been guilty of going into shops, checking out a price, whipping out our phone to compare it to online competitors and then leaving to make that purchase from our living room. Maybe what we didn’t know was that we were ‘showrooming’.

Showrooming is defined as doing precisely what I have described, examining goods in a physical shop and then buying them cheaper online. When I say defined, of course, I don’t mean officially. Showrooming has not yet made it to the official annals of most dictionaries.

I am in a bit of a quandary about this word. I have often said that words emerge when there are new trends in need of a descriptor, and there is no doubt that this is a new activity and there is currently no adequate word in the language to encapsulate it. It is just that I can’t see anybody ever saying it. It feels like a term invented for the written media, for headline writers or analysts to use. Surely people will simply continue to say they are going shopping, even if they have no intention of actually buying anything while out. Surely people will use longer sentences if they want to go into details about what they have done, rather than using this particular word.

So while showrooming is likely to stick around for those who write about this phenomenon, I think it is unlikely to enter common speech for those who are actually doing it.