Laan van Nieuw Oost-Indië 275, The Hague, The Netherlands +31(0)70 365 46 77

Word of the day: selfie

‘Hi, I am Buffy and this is my selfie. If you like my portrait, please like my SELFIE. Well, to be honest, it was not me, animally, that took the picture, but a human of my pack. You’ve seen me on this page before and asked me questions. Questions like, who am I? 


Well, I was born and bred in the Netherlands though my name is English. In my previous pack there was a human who goggled a lot at her box, and she called me after another lady nicknamed the Vampire Slayer. She forgot to feed me and soon we lost sight of each other because she joined another pack. After a short period of despair and loneliness I attached myself to Avril’s pack. Avril is Irish. Because she is a reliable creature and the pack I’m in is not too bad, I learned to bark in Irish. I’m proud to say that I have become quite fluent at it.

I was born in the year which started the second millennium and, as you can see, I’m getting on in life. Sniffling around and dozing off are my greatest pastimes. Yet there are moments when I don’t mind dressing up as a human.

I am happy to be part of Avril’s extensive pack They sometimes call me Buffy the office dog. It is my task to lie behind the desk and pretend to be asleep and sometimes to act friendly. Most humans that walk in and out all day, seem to like me very much and I must admit that I enjoy the attention. Is that enough reason for a selfie?’

Buffy’s selfie is just what we needed today (19 November 2013), because Oxford Dictonaries chose the word as the Word of the Year. The editors defined the new word as follows:

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.

Since november last year the frequency of the word ‘selfie’ in the English language has increased by 17,000%. It sounds like a new word but it is not. SELFIE’s roots are in Australia. In 2002 it was first used in the ABC online forum. Here is the earliest recorded text:

‘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.’

Usage wasn’t widespread until around 2012, when selfie began to be used commonly in mainstream media sources like Flickr. Before Buffy, the office dog, made her first SELFIE today, it was done by Michelle Obama, by Hilary Clinton, by the pope and by millions of others. As far as I know, Buffy is the first dog to have made a SELFIE.

SELFIE was coined from the word ‘self’, which is ZELF in Dutch. ‘Self’ and ZELF are extremely old words which go back to the fifth century Germanic word ‘selbaz’. The first time it was recorded in Dutch was in a psalm which was translated in the tenth century. Dutch ZELF evolved to ZELFDE (same) while English ‘same’ goes back to Dutch and Germanic ‘samen’ (together).

So SELFIE is just the latest branch on the old tree of ZELF and ZELFDE. The words imply ‘likeness’. Most people want to be liked for their ‘likeness’ and that’s why they make ‘likenesses’ of themselves. SELFIE expresses a shout for attention: ‘Please like my likeness!’ I don’t exist unless I am being perceived by others.

Last Saturday at the conference of the Dutch linguistic assocation ‘Onze Taal’ (Genootschap Our Language) the word SELFIE was nominated for the Dutch Word of the Year. All 1400 participants of the conference were asked to vote. I was among them and I chose SELFIE. Unfortunately the majority did not share my opinion and they chose another word. Which word?

‘Participatiesamenleving’ (big society). A long, boring, stupid word, which is best forgotten in my opinion. David Cameron’s coinage ‘big society’ was the English Word of the Year 2010. And who uses it now in the UK?

Tomorrow I’ll tell you why I hate this word ‘Participatiesamenleving’.