‘Selfie’ declared the word of the year - Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 19 November

Selfie added to the Oxford English Dictionary/ OED recognises new word ‘selfie’

‘Selfie’ declared the word of the year

Today's news, tomorrow's lesson - 19 November

Photograph: I-stock

Julia Belgutay

“Selfie” has been declared the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries after the frequency of its use rocketed by a reported 17,000 per cent over the past 12 months.

Selfies – a word that describes photographs that people have taken of themselves, usually with a smartphone or webcam – have become a phenomenon. Thousands of people, from high-profile celebrities to regular members of the public, seem to be succumbing to the urge to snap themselves and post the resulting pictures online.

The word had evolved from a niche term used predominantly on social media sites into a mainstream word for a self-portrait, the editors of Oxford Dictionaries said.

It has also reportedly already produced a number of spin-off words, ranging from “helfie” (a hairstyle selfie) to “bookshelfie” (a picture taken for literary self-promotion).

Oxford Dictionaries’ annual award celebrates words that have become prominent over the previous 12 months, although they do not have to have been coined during that time. It can, therefore, show the speed at which the English language is evolving in response to social, political and technological changes.

Another nominee for this year’s award was “twerking”, which describes a raunchy dance move most famously performed by Miley Cyrus at the MTV Video Music Awards. “Binge-watch”, meaning to watch a lot of television in one go, was also on the shortlist. “Showrooming”, the growing trend of looking at a product in a shop before buying it more cheaply online, and “bitcoin”, a digital currency, were also in contention.

Previous winners include “omnishambles” in 2012, “simples” in 2009 and “credit crunch” in 2008.

Oxford Dictionaries calculates how often words are used with a special research programme, which collects 150 million words currently in use in the English language online every month. Through this it can monitor the emergence of new words, and also spot changes in the frequency or geography of the usage of any of those words.

According to Oxford Dictionaries, the earliest trace of the word selfie can be found in an Australian internet forum from 2002, when a man used it in relation to a picture he had posted of himself showing injuries to his face from tripping over. It was added to Oxford Dictionaries Online in August, but is yet to make an appearance in The Oxford English Dictionary.

“We can see a phenomenal 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 early examples the word was often spelt with a ‘y’, but the ‘ie’ form is more common today and has become the accepted spelling.”

Photographs via: imgur.com  Twitter: @hitRECordJoe - all-ineffable.tumblr.com - Twitter: @50_Cent - Twitter: @SnoopDogg


1. Can you think of any reasons why “selfies” have become so popular this year?
2. Should new words be included in the dictionary or not? Explain your reasoning.
3. Why are dictionaries important? Do you think they will always be useful?
4. If you could include any word in the dictionary, what would you choose?

Related resources

Portraits and self portraits

  • Selfies are nothing new! Check out these portraits and self-portraits by a range of famous artists and discuss the way that they present their subject.

Portrait practice

  • Selfies aren’t just for phone cameras. Get your students to draw quick portraits and then complete simple self-assessments about their progress.

Shakespeare’s neologisms

  • Explore the words and phrases coined by one of the most famous word inventors in the English language, with a bit of help from The Simpsons.

Dictionary skills

  • Familiarise students with the skills needed to find words in the dictionary. This lesson is great for younger pupils and students who are new to dictionary work.

Further news resources

First News front page

  • Help your pupils understand the features of the front page of a newspaper.

Write all about it

  • Get students creating their own news report with this step-by-step guide.

What is the News?

  • A sociological and media perspective on what makes an event 'newsworthy'.

On the box

  • Help pupils to write their own TV news broadcast with this handy PowerPoint.

Structuring stories

  • A scheme of work to help students structure news stories.

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