January 07, 2014 - Comments Off on The selfie (and the ever expanding dictionary)

The selfie (and the ever expanding dictionary)

From the moment it was officially recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary and given the prestigious title of Word of the Year, ‘selfie’ was always going to polarise opinion. Like anyone or anything that becomes popular, it was there to be attacked. And so, at the start of January, Lake Michigan State University announced that ‘selfie’ was actually its Most Detested Word of the Year – for being ‘unoriginal’.

It always strikes me as odd how a word that formed quite naturally from the seeds of our beautifully creative language can then be dismissed so easily by others. As I’ve said before in previous articles, there’s something oh so charming about the way that English allows us to fashion new words and meanings without much effort.

People hold this misconception that English has rules that cannot be broken, when in fact nothing could be further from the truth. After all, what other language in the world is flexible enough to accept a word like ‘amazeballs’ I ask you? Not Germany – and certainly not France, with the ‘none shall pass’ attitude of its L’academie Francaise.

English absorbs many new words that are formed from the way we live our lives. These new words are added to dictionaries because dictionaries should reflect the way people use language at any one time. If millions of people are using the word ‘selfie’, as they are, then can we realistically just ignore it? Dictionaries and their publishers don’t make the rules – we, the speakers, do. If you reject new words, you’re not protecting the language – you’re actually damaging it.

So, whether you like it or not, ‘selfie’ is now a part of our language. You don’t have to like what it means – just embrace it!

The way that ‘selfie’ formed is simple. We’re largely a lazy bunch, always looking for quicker, shorter and easier ways to do things. And when it comes to language, we’re no different. So rather than say ‘a picture that I took of myself’, we decided that ‘selfie’ is a quicker, shorter and easier way to say it. Genius!

The root of the word is ‘self’ – that much is obvious. Then there’s this curious desire within all English-speaking people to add a ‘y’ or ‘ie’ on the end of a word to give it character and turn it into something playful – which, of course, ‘selfies’ are. Or should be.

It’s the same process we use to create nicknames. How many of us had a ‘y’ dumped on the end of our own names at school? My name’s a prime example. As a Lord (and a Rich one at that!) I was destined to be called ‘Lordy’ in the playground. Only through my persistence and the kind willingness of others was I finally able to shake off that nickname at university (when I had to grow up a bit).

Perhaps the reason why students at Lake Michigan State University voted ‘selfie’ as the most detested word of the year was due to another one of human’s natural instincts: to reject and revolt against something that becomes immensely popular almost overnight. It goes back to that old but popular proverb: Thou shalt not conform but rebel against words that reflect silly things.

But, given the way language and its users work, new words will keep on coming. Lake Michigan students fear that a second word may arise from all this selfie business – and that word is ‘dualies’ (to take a selfie that includes a friend). Their fear may very well become reality. I really do hope so.

I’m personally excited about where ‘selfie’ may yet go. What other new words or phrases might it give rise to? Sorry, I just get totes emosh about linguistics and grammar, which I think are amazeballs. Obvs.