Every year, various budding new words battle it out to be celebrated as the Oxford English Dictionary’s ‘Word of the Year’. Only one lucky word will make the cut and this time the winner was announced to be the well-deserving selfie. Considering our tech-savvy lifestyles and passion for taking quick snaps and sharing them with ever more popular social media sites like Facebook, Flickr and Instagram, it comes as no surprise that selfie should be the champion neologism.

The definition penned by the OED describes selfie as:

“a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website”

In order to qualify for nomination, the word need not have been conceived within the last year but it must have become prominent within that time and it also has to demonstrate the ‘inventiveness’ of English speakers in keeping up with social changes. Selfie certainly fits the bill: although the first example comes from 2002, according to the OED, usage increased by a phenomenal 17,000% in the last year.

Both selfy and selfie are found but the latter is generally more widespread. As Judy Pearsall, the OED‘s editorial director, explained to the Guardian, “[t]he use of the diminutive -ie suffix is notable, as it helps to turn an essentially narcissistic enterprise into something rather more endearing”. It is also suspected that the linguistic craze originated in Australia, partly because the first documented example comes from an Australian online forum, partly because of this suffix variant which is more popular in Oz.

Despite selfie being the ‘it’ word of the moment, its root word self has been around far longer than the English language or even our Germanic ancestors. Linguists suspect that the term derives from Proto-Indo-European, a language that was around some 6,000 years ago, in the form *sel-bho. So even though the selfie might be a slightly narcissistic craze, we are essentially slightly narcissistic creatures since it seems that as much as we like taking photos of ourselves now, we’ve always quite enjoyed talking about ourselves too.

Other nominees that didn’t quite make it include: olinguito, binge-watch, twerk and schmeat. But it’s the past winners that are a really interesting look into how our language and society have changed over the recent years.

2012 – omnishambles

2011 – squeezed middle

2010 – big society

2009 – simples

2008 – credit crunch

2007 – carbon footprint

2006 – bovvered

2005 – sudoku

2004 – chav


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