New words are added to the Oxford dictionary year, but the Oxford folks also choose the Word for the Year. This year, the word is…wait for it…”selfie.”
Selfies are photographs that you take of yourself using a cell phone; something the Children of the Phone invented and that President Obama has recently taken some heat for doing.
Oxford’s Word of the Year is supposed to be reflective of the ethos, mood or preoccupations of the year and have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance. Also in the running for WOTY in 2013 was “ twerk,” “bitcoin,” “showrooming,” “olinguito,” “binge-watch” and “schmeat.” The nominees are hotly debated by Oxford staff until a clear winner emerges. The word doesn’t have to be new, but it does have to have had much recent use. I guess it’s good that the Oxford Dictonary folks didn’t select “schmeat” as this year’s WOTY.
For words supposedly much in use, I was only familiar with “selfie” and “twerk” and I won’t say why I know that last word. I had to look up the rest of the nominees in the online dictionary.
After I looked up “showrooming,” I realized that I had done it. Showrooming is when you check out merchandise on display in a showroom and then purchase it online for a lower price. I call it smart shopping.
A” bitcoin” is digital currency. An “olinguito” is the smallest member of the raccoon family; a small furry animal found in the mountains of Columbia and Ecuador. Who knew everyone was talking about it? Who knew anyone was talking about it?
“Binge-watching” is what all of us do when we are trying to catch up on three seasons of Downton Abbey or Breaking Bad before the next season begins — another thing I have done without realizing it had a name.
“Schmeat” is exactly what it sounds like: synthetic meat. I have heard no one talking about schmeat and I am grateful. I haven’t even heard anyone exclaiming, “Meat, schmeat!” Maybe vegans use that term.
Let’s see now: Is “selfie” reflective of the ethos, mood and preoccupations of the year? Yup — at least the mood and preoccupation of the Children of the Phone, a generation longing to be famous and doing it by posting themselves on the Internet whether they are doing anything of consequence or not. How lovely to go viral just for capturing a photo of the spinach in someone’s tooth or how cute you look waiting in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland. For the generation that elevated Instagram into their daily lives as proof that they are living them, “selfie” is definitely reflective. As a word of lasting cultural significance, I’m not so sure, but if the Danish prime minister can post her selfies, I guess it might have staying power.
WOTYs of previous years are words like “podcast,” “carbon neutral,” “locavore,” “unfriend,” “hypermiling,” “squeezed middle” and “GIF.” I had to look the last three up.
In the event that you, like me, haven’t heard some of these well-known, culturally reflective words, here’s what they mean: “Hypermiling” is using driving techniques to maximize fuel efficiency, something I’ve been practicing with my new car that I call “old lady driving.” “Squeezed middle” refers to the section of society particularly affected by inflation, wage freezes, and cuts in public spending during a time of economic difficulty — the people who pay all the taxes and receive few of the benefits. Again, a word I’ve been living and had given my own name to — “crap.”
“GIF” is short for Graphic Interchange Format — bitmap images that we’ve all seen on the Internet; a “locavore” is someone who eats only locally produced food; a “podcast” is a digital audio or video file, often part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a Website to a media player.
We’ve all been cautioned to be “carbon neutral” where the amount of carbon fuels you use is balanced by the amount of carbon fuels you save by recycling, reusing or renewing. Or driving like a little old lady in your hybrid car. “Unfriend” is something you do on Facebook to people you no longer like or didn’t want on your Facebook page in the first place. It’s the reverse of the Golden Rule — something you might do, but do not want done to you.
On New Year’s Eve you might spend the evening taking selfies of yourself twerking or cozy up on the couch with a pile of schmeat sandwiches to binge watch “The Walking Dead.” Either way, you’re now prepared with the correct vocabulary, according to the Oxford Dictionary.
Wendy Schultz is a biweekly columnist for the Mountain Democrat.