Selfie named Oxford Dictionary's word of the year

By Oxford's definition, a selfie is a "photo one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to social media website." It was announced to be the word of the year today by Oxford Dictionaries.

Stiff competition for Oxford's top word, including schmeat, showrooming, bitcoin and twerk

The CBC's Nadia Stewart looks at the word 'selfie,' after Oxford names it their word of the year. 2:44

By Oxford's definition, a selfie is a "photo one has taken of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website."

And according to Oxford Dictionaries, the frequency of the term has increased 17,000 per cent since this time last year, making it their international word of the year.

 “Using the Oxford Dictionaries language research programme, which collects around 150 million words of current English in use each month, we can see a phenomenal upward trend in the use of selfie in 2013, and this helped to cement its selection as word of the year," said Judy Pearsall, editorial director for Oxford Dictionaries, in a release.  

Origin of the word

According to Oxford, the word has been in use since 2002.

The earliest known reference to a selfie was found in an Australian online forum post.

“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie,” said the Sept. 13, 2002, ABC Online forum posting.  

Dennis Storoshenko, an assistant professor in linguistics, language and cultures at the University of Calgary, said he's not surprised to hear the word has Australian roots.

"It's exactly the same process that in the '80s would have just given us the 'shrimp on the barbie,'" he said. 

"So, it turns out Australian English has this habit of shortening words and ... selfie was a shortening of self portrait."

Social media spurred popularity

Shortlist sample

  • Bitcoin: A digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank.
  • Schmeat: A form of meat  produced synthetically from biological tissue.
  • Showrooming: The practice of visiting a shop or shops in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price.
  • Twerk: Dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.

Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram helped popularize selfies.

“Social media sites helped to popularize the term, with the hashtag #selfie appearing on the photo-sharing website Flickr as early as 2004," said Pearsall.

"But usage wasn’t widespread until around 2012, when selfie was being used commonly in mainstream media sources."

University of Calgary student Eric Patterson says everyone takes selfies — and he doesn't see anything wrong with that.

"Especially with camera phones why not take the opportunity every time you're in a bathroom or every time you have the opportunity why not get yourself out there."

There was some stiff competition for Oxford Dictionaries' top word including schmeat, showrooming, bitcoin and twerk.

The word selfie is not in the Oxford English Dictionary, although it may be added in the future.

However, it does appear on oxforddictionaries.com.

CBC's Nadia Stewart takes a selfie with Dennis Storoshenko, an assistant professor in linguistics, language and cultures at the University of Calgary. (Nadia Stewart/CBC)

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