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.

Squeezed Middle Named Word Of The Year

Oxford Dictionaries has announced its word of the year, and it is a true reflection of British society over the last 12 months.

“Squeezed Middle”, a term coined by Labour leader Ed Miliband to describe the large portion of society most affected by Government cuts and the economic downturn, has won the accolade in both the UK and the USA, which normally selects a different word.

Some press reports have complained about the fact that the winner of word of the year is a phrase, but compound nouns have distinct meanings and therefore act like words, so that argument is a red herring. Instead, we should focus on just what this year’s winner and runners-up say about the state of the country today.

Wordability has frequently mentioned that new words and usages come from all sides, with technology a particularly rich vein, though music, sport and television also contribute their fair share of neologisms.

But squeezed middle comes straight from news reporting and shows that this year, minds have been concentrated on serious issues. This is reflected by the other words on the shortlist, which are other brand new words, new usages of existing words or words gaining particular prominence: Arab Spring, describing events in the Middle East earlier this year; Occupy, the movement to occupy prominent buildings as a protest over perceived economic injustice; Phone Hacking, the much-publicised practice of intercepting people’s phone messages; Hacktivism, gaining unauthorised access to networks for political reasons; and Sodcasting, the only non-newsworthy item on the shortlist and the act of playing music through your mobile phone in a public place.

What this list shows us is the power of the media and the way that when particular stories start to grow and gain coverage, they have to have a neat word to encapsulate their essence. Coining the right one can help to define the argument and create a perception in people’s minds about what the story is about. The internet and 24-hour news need these words and then become the perfect vehicles for disseminating this.

As well as really getting to the heart of what the economic crisis means for millions of people, I think there is another reason why squeezed middle works so well. It sounds like it always existed. When you hear the phrase, you assume it is a demographic description that has been used for eternity, rather than a phrase of the times, and this slightly timeless quality probably explains why it has stuck.

As for my word of the year? Well, since this blog has only been operating for a short time, I can suggest Doing a Tevez, Shovel-Ready and Haircut as possible candidates. But of course, there can only be one winner, and I look forward to seeing it in every dictionary next year. For me, the word of the year for 2011 is of course Wordability.