The word of the year season starts about the time of retail Christmas season. Oxford Dictionaries announced a unanimous choice among its judges of selfie, an 11-year-old word that certainly came into its own in 2013.
The Oxfordians weren’t the first to declare that, for this year, all the prominent words have now been uttered and it is therefore time to choose. Global Language Monitor beat Oxford by a week, declaring 404 the word of the year. Apparently, the folks the brand-monitoring firm spent a great deal of time navigating to defunct websites.
The Oxford selection may be big, but this is sort of like the year-end movie awards leading up to the Oscars in 2014. The big awards night will come in early January in Minneapolis when the American Dialect Society has the final say on the WOTY for 2013.
And just as a Golden Globe nod adds fuel to speculation over who will win the Academy Award for Best Picture, the selection of selfie brought great debate over whether twerk was given proper respect.
Twerk is older than selfie, but it, too, was thrust into prominence this year when Miley Cyrus did her version of twerking at MTV’s Video Music Awards. The morning after, everyone who didn’t see it desperately sought a definition of twerk. It became the top lookup on Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, leading users to a figurative 404 because the dictionary had no definition. Lexicographer Emily Brewster had to take a pause from defining love to focus on an M-W Open Dictionary definition for twerk.
While selfie and twerk are the front runners for American Dialect Society WOTY honors, Obamacare remains a strong contender. It was a word that rose to prominence as a sneer at health insurance reform early in President Obama’s first term. But after its supporters embraced it during last year’s presidential election campaign, it became acceptable shorthand for the Affordable Care Act, which was the target of a government shutdown by its opponents and the subject of great criticism over its online rollout, which brought an abundance of 404 errors.