SUZANNE HARRINGTON: To thine own selfie be true, get with the lingo

The Pope poses with a group of teens for a selfie

YOU have to love the evolution of language. I’m sure there’s a word for it. The words that are most interesting are the new ones which pop up every year, ascending from everyday slang to inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary.

This year’s big new word is selfie – “a photo that one has taken of oneself typically with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media site.” This newest OED definition is already littered with past contenders now part of common speech – smartphone, webcam, uploaded, social media – but selfie is the latest, reflecting the fact that these days we are all the digital children of Narcissus. Its usage went up 17,000% in 2013.

Apparently selfie used to be selfy, which makes it read even more narcissistic – the ‘y’ evolved to an ‘ie’, making the word seem cuter, more diminutive and appealing. Don’t ask me how changing the end letters of a word makes it feel nicer – I’m sure there’s a word for that too – but it works. Its origins are Australian, with the first use of the word recorded online in 2002, and has spawned a whole subgenre of uploadable DIY photography – helfie, belfie, welfie, drelfie, shelfie. They might sound like minor players in Lord of the Rings, but refer to self-snapped photos respectively of your hair, bum, workout, drunkenness and bookshelf. For people with far too much time on their hands.

Other contenders this year were twerk, binge-watch and schmeat. We can blame the consistently annoying Miley Cyrus for mainstreaming twerk, despite it being a dance move as old as carnival itself. From Nigeria to Brazil to New Orleans, twerking is what people – not just women – do without fuss or fanfare, but it took a skinny white girl to put it on the map – a bit like Elvis nicking the blues.

We all know binge-watch – it’s what you do when you watch six or seven episodes of Orange Is The New Black on Netflix, each episode starting 10 seconds after the last one, sucking you in and holding you captive. The term has been around since the Nineties, but sites like Netflix mean it has come into its own – you don’t even have to waddle across the room to manually change the DVD anymore.

Schmeat is not on the tip of our tongues just yet, but scientists reckon it will be any day now. Unless of course you find the whole concept of in-vitro meat – that is, made in a lab in a test tube – about as appealing as cockroach smoothie. But for carnivores, it may be your future. Schmeat – mmmm, delicious. Other new words this year are bitcoin (invisible internet money) and olinguito (a creature discovered in South American rainforests that looks like a teddy bear cat). So there you are – you are now linguistically up to date.


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