Selfie and Other Recent Word Additions
By: Hayder Al-Ani
Not too long ago, the Cambridge Dictionary (owned by Cambridge University Press) made quite a splash in international papers when it decided to introduce a raft of new words into its 2013 web dictionary. Among the most controversial were the words “selfie,” “poshitis” and “phubbing.”
In the company’s own words, it defines selfie as “a photograph taken of yourself,often for the purposes of posting on a social-networking website.” Selfies, as they were, are indeed ubiquitous throughout many social media websites – whether you’re talking about Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, Pinterest or any other network that vigorously uses photos.
Indeed it is simply a sign of the times, that is, just how pervasive and influential social media is in our lives. Not surprisingly, one glaring statistic shows how globally,1 in 6 people have a Facebook account and how over 300 million people around the world have access to Twitter. This obviously has a direct impact on the waytranslation and interpretation of languages takes place (including face to face, video and telephone interpreting).
Cambridge University Press argues that in order to be considered for induction, a word must be used consistently and frequently across various mediums. The word selfie has actually witnessed a 17,000 percent increase in usage from 2012 – enough reason for the publisher to adopt it into the mainstream. The origins of the word are unclear, however Cambridge News themselves claim that it can traced back to 2002 when the word first appeared on an Australian online forum. The author of the self-picture was alleged to have uploaded the picture of his injured face suffered after a drunken bout. He apologetically wrote “Sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.” Only in 2004 did the word gain circulation through social media but it’s not until mainstream media referred to the word on a wider scale for its usage to become household.
Other recent buzzwords accepted by Cambridge include poshitis – described as “the pain caused by carrying large bags fashionably in the crook of your arm”; quidditching, defined as “the internet craze brought about by the Harry Potter game”; and phubbing, cutely explained as “the act of snubbing someone in a social setting looking at your phone.”
To follow suit, the Oxford online dictionary too has added the word selfie onto its esteemed depository (however the print version has yet to be so forthcoming). It was also recently announced that selfie was Oxford’s international word of the year last month (for 2012). The Editorial Director of Oxford Dictionaries, Judy Pearsall, stated that using the company’s language research program, Oxford is able to collect some 150 million words of current English words in usage monthly. Based on this data, Pearsall and her team can identify an astoundingly upward trend in usage for selfie in 2013 – thereby cementing its place for Oxford’s word of the year. Among the other recent additions to Oxford’s online dictionary includes ‘bitcoin’ (a form of hot digital currency method with sophisticated and ambiguous encryption), ‘twerking’ (a form of raunchy, sexually provocative dance) and ‘phablet’ (a smartphone with a large screen – that is, a crossover between a smartphone and a tablet). Over the years hundreds of new words have been added to Oxford’s dictionary – many of which are technology-inspired. Even more controversial and less popular words to make the cut include ‘hackerspace’ (a gathering for data enthusiasts), ‘BYOD’ (bring your own device), ‘srsly’ (seriously) and ‘apols’ (apologies).
Katherine Connor Martin of Oxford Dictionaries Online mentions how some words have been around for years but have only recently gained popularity. She cites the word ‘twerk’ which is actually around 20 years old and was originally coined by the American hip-hop scene but only recently thrust into popularity (pun intended) when Miley Cyrus performed it for all to see during this year’s MTV Video Music Awards alongside Robin Thicke.
The common theme around many of these new additions on Cambridge and Oxford over the years is technology and social media. Each year, approximately 1.8 billion new words are detected of which only around 1,000 are inducted into the database. With the pace of new word additions having accelerated over the years, some purists and traditionalists have taken offence feeling left out and antiquated at the inundation of new, more tech-savvy words.
What’s important to understand is, the words we speak and more specifically, the manner by which we communicate them, are a reflection of the time. The future will require translation and interpreting companies like Convocco Ltd. among other big players to catch up and service clients keeping in mind changing technology and social trends. Though technology is ultimately more beneficial to us than harmful,we must ensure to maintain that the integrity of languages and basic structure of languages remains intact.