Grammar Geek. Word Nerd. Dictionary Dork.
Such terms refer to one who revels in the nuances of the English language, possibly to the point of obsession. Depending on who's bandying them about and whether you're beating them at Scrabble, they can be employed as either a compliment or an insult.
Hurl one as an epithet my way, and I'll always curtsey deeply and squeal, "Gramercy, kind friend!"
(My editorial colleagues might vouch that I can also be an incredibly irritating Punctuation Provocateur, but that is another story.)
My linguistic preoccupations began when I received an Oxford Dictionary for my ninth birthday and became terribly upset when it did not contain an entry for "gonorrhea," which I had come across while reading John Irving's The World According to Garp. (A disturbed and precocious child, I pilfered this and other age-inappropriate tomes of the time from my mother's nightstand, including Clan of the Cave Bear and Judy Blume's Wifey.)
My parents exchanged the watered-down kid version for the real thing, and thus began a lexical lovefest that continues to this day. Only nowadays, instead of peeling through onionskin-thin pages of a heavy brick of a book balanced on my lap, I tick through myriad websites on my laptop looking up instances of unfamiliar usage. (Did you know Scrabble is now a euphemism for sex? According to UrbanDictionary.com, anyway.)
Suffice it to say I like to play around with words the way a toddler relishes spending time in a sandbox excavating old chewing gum with a stick.
But this year's "Word of the Year" has me flummoxed. While I hold the expertise of the Oxford English Dictionary's editors in the highest regard, this philological phool takes umbrage with the term "selfie." Thousands of years of etymological evolution and the best we've got is the vainglorious and vaguely masturbatory practice of snapping duck-faced pictures of ourselves?
Sorry to sound like such a belletristic prig, but I was kind of hoping we could be done with throwing up two-fingered sideways hand gestures signifying that we've all been initiated into some fictitious and ubiquitous gang (Scissor Mafia in da house whaaat?!)
Frankly, I would have preferred almost any of 2013's other contenders for Word of the Year, even "shmeat" (like real meat, only not) and "squoob" (an anatomical portmanteau of "squished" and "boob" made popular by the Edwardian costumes of Downton Abbey).
Not that anyone asked this cantankerous crank. The OxDic editors swear that the choice of "selfie" as this year's winner was unanimous, "with little if any argument." Highly unusual for a group of people whose entire occupations involve quibbling over the still-unresolved controversy of whether the tech term "GIF" is pronounced with a hard "g" or a soft "j."
Ever the Sisyphean semantic analysts, these dedicated dweebs broke down the word's origins to find that it was first coined in 2002 by a drunk Aussie who posted an out-of-focus shot of the lip he busted while on a bender with his mates. Earlier spellings showed a variant ending in "-y", but the cutesy "ie" version emerged to dominate, providing "a tie-in with the word's seemingly Australian origins, as Australian English has something of a penchant for -ie words." (Think "barbie" for barbecue.)
In the last decade, selfies proliferated on photosharing sites like Flickr and spread like, well, gonorrhea to the rest of the social media world. Between October 2012 and October 2013, OED documents that its usage increased a whopping 17,000 percent. That's quite a profusion of fake gang signs, yo!
Like a reality show with endless permutations, the term has spawned a series of spin-offs like "welfie" (a "workout selfie" utilized to show off a particularly notable set of abs), "belfie" (a backshot of one's posterior) and that drunken New Year's Eve pose you may be regretting just about now, the "drelfie."
No denying the term is relevant: From Amanda Bynes' self-documented Twitter meltdown (featuring plenty of squoob) to President Obama's much-derided snap of himself with Denmark's Prime Minister Helle Thorning Schmidt and British PM David Cameron at Nelson Mandela's memorial service, 2013 was all about the selfie, for sure.
Still, the choice of "selfie" for Word of the Year perturbs me. It's very possible that I'm over-cogitating, but it seems to indicate a trend towards an increasingly self-absorbed culture where images of natural beauty and heartpiercing suffering are crowded out of our consciousness by pictures of today's cute outfit or wearing your cat as a beard. A picture can say a thousand words; I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with them coming straight from the Kardashian vocabulary.
We live in a time when humanity needs more compassion and collaboration than ever to solve our problems, of which there are a chiton (that one is an original, dreamed up on a wine-soaked evening with friends — pronounced with a French accent, it is a cheeky compound of "shit ton." Feel free to purloin.)
You can say I'm a dreamer, but I guess I'm hoping that our beloved, brilliant and infinitely complex English language will someday reflect that our society is becoming less selfish (selfieish?) and more inclusive and benevolent. Then again, maybe I'm just bitter that my own attempts at the perfect selfie only seem to reveal bad angles of my teeth that make me look like a horse wearing eyeshadow.
Still, this syntactic spaz can find one cold comfort in the Word of the Year: At least it wasn't "twerk."
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