It can be traced back to an Australian web forum in 2002; its usage has increased 17,000 percent since this time last year; and it has been popularised by celebrities including Beyonce, Rihanna, Cheryl Cole and Justin Bieber.

The Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2013 is: selfie

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                    

It may strike some as nothing more than vanity, but the practice of taking selfies has skyrocketed over the past 12 months – particularly among young people with smartphones and social media accounts.

The word has been gaining momentum throughout the English-speaking world in 2013 [scroll down for infographic] and has 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 including those showcasing particular parts of the body (such as 'helfie' – a picture of one's hair) or a particular activity (such as 'welfie' – a workout selfie).

Judy Pearsall, editorial director for Oxford Dictionaries, said: '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.

'Social media sites helped to popularize the term, with the hashtag #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.'

Research shows the word was in use by 2002, when it was employed by a poster on an Australian online forum:

ABC Online (forum posting), 13 Sepember 2002

'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.' 

Ms Pearsall added: '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.'

Selfie was added to OxfordDictionaries.com in August and is currently being considered for future inclusion in the Oxford English Dictionary.

Also on the shortlist for Word of the Year 2013 but missing out on the accolade were:

  • 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.
  • binge-watch, verb: to watch multiple episodes of a television programme in rapid succession, typically by means of DVDs or digital streaming.
  • bitcoin, noun: a digital currency in which transactions can be performed without the need for a central bank. Also, a unit of bitcoin.
  • olinguito, noun: a small furry mammal found in mountain forests in Colombia and Ecuador, the smallest member of the raccoon family.
  • schmeat, noun, informal: a form of meat  produced synthetically from biological tissue.
  • showrooming, noun: the practice of visiting a shop or shops in order to examine a product before buying it online at a lower price.
  • twerk, verb: dance to popular music in a sexually provocative manner involving thrusting hip movements and a low, squatting stance.

This article first appeared on the news page of the University of Oxford website, and is reproduced with kind permission. Image by alex-pl under Creative Commons license.