Thursday, August 29, 2013


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

Selfie, in context, is fairly self-explanatory. I hadn't really heard the term until the news brought it to me in the context of Anthony Weiner's problems, and the Dzhokhar Tsarnaev Rolling Stone cover. After that, I started hearing it everywhere. At least in the media. I don't think I've yet heard a friend use it aloud. And personally, I like this slightly more cynical version from Urban Dictionary:

A strange phenomenon in which the photographer is also the subject of the photograph, in a subversive twist on the traditional understanding of the photograph. Usually conducted because the subject cannot locate a suitable photographer to take the photo, like a friend. 

But none of this is why I posted about this. I was interested in the uproar around the misapprehension that it had been included in the Oxford English Dictionary mentioned in a Slate article today. As the article writer, Forrest Wickman, points out, it made big stir across the internet, and many people thought it heralded the death of English as we know it.

I doubt Stephen Fry did.

In any case, claims of its death were a little premature. Oxford Dictionaries Online are not the same thing as the venerable OED. Both do come out of the Oxford University Press, but they serve different purposes. The ODO is around to catch up the current lingo. I guess you could say it is a gateway dictionary. The OED is the dictionary of historical record. I'm not sure how they decide what words make it, though that might be worth a post. At any rate, "selfie" isn't there yet.

I was going to post this last night, but it's funny--"selfie" just didn't seem to go very well with the fiftieth anniversary of the "I Have a Dream" speech. In fact, the two categories may belong to different universes entirely.



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  2. I had never heard the word until this post, and an insipid little neologism it is, too. Subversive? Judas priest, spare me!

    It could have been worse; the preening little cultural studies major who wrote the entry could have called these self-portraits transgressive.

    The owner of my local offers a free drink to his staff at the end of their shifts, "shift drinks," he calls them, which I guess is a restaurant-industry term. But he sometimes calls them shifties, which I find a delightful word for a free nightcap at the end of a long evening's work. Gives a nice, new meaning to shifty-eyed, too.

  3. Now that you've heard it, I think you will hear it again, Peter.

    Shifties is nice. Still not the embodiment of MLK's dream, but what is?

  4. Well, I have a dream have that men will one day be judged by the content of their glasses.

  5. It's funny that just last night I was out for a beer with a friend at a pub I haven't been to very much and noticed this quote on the bottom of the menu:

    "Good people drink good beer. Just look around any public barroom and you will see.

    Bad people drink bad beer. Think about it." ~ Hunter S. Thompson

    I don't really buy it, though.

  6. I wonder what Hunter S. Thompson would have thought had he lived into this golden age of craft beers with zany names.

  7. Kinda makes me want to find a bottle of Gonzo Pale Ale. "Selfie" is very common on the 365 Project photography site. A good "selfie" can require a great deal of set-up and know-how, unlike that phone photo taken late in a pub crawling evening.

  8. Of course, the king of the selfie is Rembrandt, Collagemama. Intent is everything. Well, and talent.

  9. But did Rembrandt create a craft beer?

  10. I don't know. But one book on Rembrandt does begin with the observation that his name has come to stand for perfection. One of his examples came from a newspaper's sports section, one of whose writers had called a beautifully pitched baseball game something like a two-hit, fifteen-strikeout Rembrandt.