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Business Technology

'Selfie': 2013's word of the year

LONDON -- In what was described as an unusually unanimous decision, “selfie” has been chosen as word of the year by the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary, beating out “twerk” and a host of other Internet and social-media-related terms, such as “bitcoin,” that have exploded onto the verbal scene in recent years.

“It seems like everyone who is anyone has posted a selfie somewhere on the Internet,” Oxford Dictionaries said on its blog, without offering an accompanying selfie of the writer. “If it is good enough for the Obamas or the pope, then it is good enough for Word of the Year.”

Use of “selfie,” to mean a self-portrait typically snapped with a smartphone and shared over social networks, has risen 17,000% in frequency over the past 12 months, Oxford Dictionaries said. “Twerk” experienced a notable midyear surge, thanks to Miley Cyrus, but has not proved quite as popular or universal.

Although it was the “runaway winner” for the panel charged with selecting the 2013 word of the year, “selfie” was already on Oxford Dictionaries’ list of words to watch last year, like a song moving up the Billboard singles chart. It made it into Oxford Dictionaries’ online version three months ago, but hasn’t yet broken through to the magisterial Oxford English Dictionary, or OED.

Perhaps surprising to some, the term was first recorded in Australia, not the U.S. or Britain, in 2002. An abashed and probably hungover participant in an Internet forum posted a self-portrait taken after a drunken accident on a set of stairs.

“I had a hole ... right through my bottom lip,” the post said. “And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

Adding the suffix “-ie” is a characteristic linguistic trait Down Under, as Oxford Dictionaries noted and as any visitor quickly discovers. Un-self-conscious antipodeans really do say “barbie” (on which one slips an extra shrimp), “cozzie” (for swimming costume, or swimsuit to an American) and, of course, “Aussie.”

As for “selfie,” early evidence shows a variant spelling with a -y ending, “but the -ie form is vastly more common today and has become the accepted spelling of the word,” Oxford Dictionaries declared definitively, adding, “It could be argued that the use of the -ie suffix helps to turn an essentially narcissistic enterprise into something rather more endearing.”

The triumph of “selfie” is part of the larger and seemingly unstoppable proliferation of words and technological terms that lexicographers have struggled to keep up with. In August, Oxford Dictionaries added terms such as “phablet” and “digital detox” to its online version.

On the short-list with “selfie” for word of the year was “bitcoin,” the online currency, and “showrooming,” the practice of checking out a product in a brick-and-mortar store, then going home and ordering it at a cheaper price on the Internet.

Whether any of these words, including “selfie,” will achieve the greatness and staying power necessary to merit an entry in the august and frighteningly comprehensive Oxford English Dictionary remains to be seen. But there’s time: The third edition of the OED, which was originally expected to be completed by 2010, may not be ready for 20 years, its editor has said.

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Twitter: @HenryHChu

henry.chu@latimes.com

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