November 20, 2013

The Oxford English Dictionaries word of the year is terrible


The Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year: selfie.

Drumroll, please! It’s time for the big announcement of which word the Oxford English Dictionaries has selected as its official word of the year. Which word, more than any other, sums of the events, achievements, and culture, of 2013 so far? Wonder no longer, because the editors have spoken, and the word is: selfie.

That’s right, folks, it’s probably time to give up on 2013 and try to do better next year, because the word that apparently sums up the year to date is “selfie.” Now, there’s nothing wrong with taking a self portrait with your smartphone or webcam, per se, but the fact that it’s become SO prevalent and such a topic of conversation that it needed its own word is kind of odious.  No longer content simply to be narcissistic, it seems we have to name and classify the forms of our Instagram-fueled narcissism. At the very least, “selfie” is inexcusably cutesy and twee.

The OED blog offers some insight into which words are eligible for this distinction:

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a word, or expression, that we can see has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. Every year, candidates for Word of the Year are debated and one is eventually chosen that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.

The Word of the Year selection is made irrespective of whether the candidates are already included in an Oxford dictionary, and selection does not guarantee future inclusion. The names of people, places, or events are not suitable as Words of the Year.

The word doesn’t have to be a new one as of this year; in fact, the OED tracks the first usage of “selfie” back to 2002, in an Australian online forum post. In the past year, though, its usage has increased by 17,000%, which may have factored into the word being chosen nearly unanimously, per the Los Angeles Times’s Henry Chu. The seven other words on the shortlist this year were: bedroom tax, binge-watch, bitcoin, olinguito, schmeat, showrooming, and twerk.

And lest we get too bogged down in pessimism, it’s important to give thanks that the word gave us this tweet from Glen Weldon, author and occasional writer about books & comic books for NPR:

So it’s not all bad news. See also: they didn’t choose “twerk.”


Nick Davies is a publicist at Melville House.