The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013


is named Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013

selfie noun, informal
(also selfy; plural selfies)

a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website

19 November 2013, Oxford, UK:

Today Oxford Dictionaries announces selfie as their international Word of the Year 2013. The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a word or expression that has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. Language research conducted by Oxford Dictionaries editors reveals that the frequency of the word selfie in the English language has increased by 17,000% since this time last year.

Selfie can actually be traced back to 2002 when it was used in an Australian online forum.  The word gained momentum throughout the English-speaking world in 2013 as it evolved from a social media buzzword to mainstream shorthand for a self-portrait photograph. Its linguistic productivity is already evident in the creation of numerous related spin-off terms showcasing particular parts of the body like helfie (a picture of one’s hair) and belfie (a picture of one’s posterior); a particular activity – welfie (workout selfie) and drelfie (drunken selfie), and even items of furniture – shelfie and bookshelfie.

Judy Pearsall, Editorial Director for Oxford Dictionaries, explained the decision: “Using the Oxford Dictionaries language research programme, which collects around 150 million words of current English in use each month, we can see a phenomenal upward trend in the use of selfie in 2013, and this helped to cement its selection as Word of the Year.”

The Word of the Year need not have been coined within the past twelve months, but it does need to have become prominent or notable in that time. Selfie was added to in August 2013, although the Word of the Year selection is made irrespective of whether the candidates are already included in an Oxford dictionary. Selfie is not yet in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), but is currently being considered for future inclusion.

The earliest known selfie

Research shows the word selfie in use by 2002. The earliest known usage is found in an Australian online forum post:

2002 ABC Online (forum posting) 13 Sept.
“Um, drunk at a mates 21st, I tripped ofer [sic] and landed lip first (with front teeth coming a very close second) on a set of steps. I had a hole about 1cm long right through my bottom lip. And sorry about the focus, it was a selfie.”

The rise of the selfie

Judy Pearsall explained the evolution of the word selfie: “Social media sites helped to popularize the term, with the tag ‘selfie’ appearing on the photo-sharing website Flickr as early as 2004, but usage wasn’t widespread until around 2012, when selfie was being used commonly in mainstream media sources.

“In early examples, the word was often spelled with a -y, but the -ie form is more common today and has become the accepted spelling. The use of the diminutive -ie suffix is notable, as it helps to turn an essentially narcissistic enterprise into something rather more endearing. Australian English has something of a penchant for -ie words – barbie for barbecue, firie for firefighter, tinnie for a can of beer – so this helps to support the evidence for selfie having originated in Australia.”

The Word of the Year shortlist

In alphabetical order, the shortlisted words for the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 are:

bedroom tax, noun, informal:
(in the UK) a reduction in the amount of housing benefit paid to a claimant if the property they are renting is judged to have more bedrooms than is necessary for the number of the people in the household, according to criteria set down by the government.

The Welfare Reform Act 2012 proposed various changes to the rules governing social security benefits in the UK, including an ‘under-occupancy penalty’ to be imposed on households that were receiving housing benefit and that were judged to have bedrooms surplus to their requirements. Critics and opponents soon began to refer to the new penalty as the ‘bedroom tax’. The first references to the bedroom tax in our corpus appear in 2011 but usage increased dramatically around the time this new provision came into force, in April 2013.

binge-watch, verb:
to watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming. [ORIGIN 1990s: from BINGE + WATCH, after BINGE-EAT, BINGE-DRINK.]

The word binge-watch has been used in the circles of television fandom since the late 1990s, but it has exploded into mainstream use in 2013. The original context was watching programmes on full-season DVD sets, but the word has come into its own with the advent of on-demand viewing and online streaming. In 2013, binge-watching got a further boost when the video-streaming company Netflix began releasing episodes of its serial programming all at once. In the past year, binge-watching chalked up almost as much evidence on our corpus as binge-eating. (Binge-drinking remains unchallenged in the top position, at least for the moment.)

bitcoin, noun:
a digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank. Also, a unit of bitcoin. [ORIGIN early 21st century: from BIT, in the computing sense of ‘a unit of information’ and COIN.]

The term first appeared in late 2008 in a research paper, and the first bitcoins were created in 2009. By 2012, the virtual currency was attracting wider attention and we began to see its steadily increasing use. A spike in usage was apparent in March – May 2013, which may be due in part to the market crash around that time.

olinguito, noun:
a small furry mammal found in mountain forests in Colombia and Ecuador, the smallest member of the raccoon family. (Taxonomic name Bassaricyon neblina)  [ORIGIN 2013: diminutive form of OLINGO, a South American mammal resembling the kinkajou.]

The discovery of the olinguito was announced by the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in August 2013: it represented the first identification of a new species of mammalian carnivore in the Western hemisphere in 35 years.  Extensive coverage of the story in the world’s media was guaranteed by the animal’s appearance – it was described as looking like a cross between a teddy bear and a domestic cat.

schmeat, noun, informal:
a form of meat  produced synthetically from biological tissue. [ORIGIN early 21st century: perhaps from SYNTHETIC and MEAT, influenced by the use of ‘- -, schm – -’ as a disparaging or dismissive exclamation (e.g. fancy schmancy: ‘some of the gourmet sauces you get in fancy schmancy places are just too spicy for me’).]

Man-made meat is more commonly (and neutrally) known as ‘in-vitro meat’ or ‘cultured meat’. This word remains very rare, largely because the phenomenon it refers to is still in its infancy. However, in August 2013, the world’s first hamburger made with in-vitro meat was served up by Dutch scientists, raising the possibility that the general public may have more occasion to use this word in the not-too-distant future.

showrooming, noun:
the practice of visiting a shop or shops in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price. [ORIGIN early 21st century: from SHOWROOM ‘a room used to display goods for sale’.]

Before 2013, there were just a handful of examples of this on our corpus. We’ve seen this figure increase significantly, along with use of the related verb ‘to showroom’ (A survey last year found that 35 percent of shoppers had showroomed) and the noun ‘showroomer’ (Some retailers have tried to compete with showroomers by reducing prices).

twerk, verb:
dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance. [ORIGIN 1990s: probably an alteration of WORK.]

Twerk seems to have arisen in the early 1990s, in the context of the bounce music scene in New Orleans. It’s likely that the word was being used in clubs and at parties before that, as an exhortation to dancers. By the mid-1990s, we see evidence of twerk being used online in newsgroups to describe a specific type of dancing. The most likely theory about the origin of this word is that it is an alteration of work, because that word has a history of being used in similar ways, with dancers being encouraged to ‘work it’. The ‘t’ could be a result of blending with another word such as twist or twitch. By early 2013, the word had generated enough currency across a range of sources for us to add it to; its association with Miley Cyrus this summer created a huge spike of usage in the media, especially social media.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is selfie in an Oxford dictionary?
Selfie was added to Selfie is not yet in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), but is currently being considered for future inclusion. See the OED website for more information on how a word qualifies for inclusion in the OED.

What is the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year (WOTY)?
The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year is a word, or expression, that we can see has attracted a great deal of interest during the year to date. Every year, candidates for Word of the Year are debated and one is eventually chosen that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.

The Word of the Year selection is made irrespective of whether the candidates are already included in an Oxford dictionary, and selection does not guarantee future inclusion. The names of people, places, or events are not suitable as Words of the Year.

Does the Word of the Year have to be a new word?
The Word of the Year need not have been coined within the past twelve months but it does need to have become prominent or notable during that time.

How is the Word of the Year chosen?
The candidates for the Word of the Year are drawn initially from the Oxford Dictionaries New Monitor Corpus, a research programme which collects around 150 million words of current English in use each month, using automated search criteria to scan new web content. Sophisticated software allows us to identify new and emerging words on a daily basis and examine the shifts that occur in geography, register, and frequency of use.

Dictionary editors will also flag other notable words for consideration, and suggestions made via the OxfordWords blog and social media are also taken into account. The final Word of the Year selection team is made up of lexicographers and consultants to the dictionary team, and editorial, marketing, and publicity staff.

Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year in the US and the UK

Oxford Dictionaries has editorial staff based in the UK and in the US. Over the years, the UK and US dictionary teams have often chosen different Words of the Year. Each country’s vocabulary develops in different ways, according to what is happening culturally and in the news, and as such the Words of the Year can be different. Sometimes, a word captures the imagination on both sides of the Atlantic and can therefore be considered as a joint Word of the Year, as with selfie in 2013.

Which words have been selected as Word of the Year in recent years?

Year Oxford Dictionaries UK Word of the Year Oxford Dictionaries US Word of the Year
2004 chav
2005 sudoku podcast
2006 bovvered carbon-neutral
2007 carbon footprint locavore
2008 credit crunch hypermiling
2009 simples unfriend
2010 big society refudiate
2011 squeezed middle
2012 omnishambles GIF (verb)

Is this the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) Word of the Year?
OED editors are an integral part of the Word of the Year selection team, but this Word of the Year is not exclusively chosen by the OED editors. Oxford University Press publishes many dictionaries including the OED, and the Word of the Year is selected by editorial staff from each of these dictionary teams, including editors of Find out more about the main differences between the OED and

About Oxford University Press
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Learn more about the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year with our FAQ

Read more about the rise of ‘selfie’ in our blog post