Selfie: A Portrait of a Word


As Word of the Year decisions approach, the lexicography team at Dictionary.com has been reflecting on words that have risen in popularity this year. One such word is selfie.

In case you’re unfamiliar with this term, selfie means “a photo that one takes of oneself, typically with a smartphone or webcam, especially for posting on a social-networking website.” Though self-portraits are far from a novel concept, the term selfie is relatively new, only surfacing about ten years ago in Australia. It’s a great example of classic Australian hypocoristics (for example, using “Aussie” in place of “Australian,” as discussed in this Language Log post). The precursor of the selfie is the “MySpace pic,” or a poorly lit self-portrait, often taken with the aid of a bathroom mirror and used as a profile photo on a site like MySpace (remember, this was before phones had self-facing cameras). As the ease of access to camera phones and webcams has increased, and the technology has improved, the selfie has become a mainstay on the many screens we interact with on a daily basis.

In an October 2013 New York Times piece titled “My Selfie, Myself,” Jenna Wortham reflects on the selfie trend, positing that these photos give a “human element” to primarily text-based interactions. She continues, saying that at first she was selfie-shy, but after seeing all her friends turn the camera on themselves, she followed suit. And she was rewarded: “…the occasional selfie appears to nudge some friends who I haven’t seen in a while to get in touch via e-mail or text to suggest that we meet for a drink to catch up.” By the simple act of sharing a photo of her face on a social-networking site, Wortham has noticed increased social interaction in real life.

“If you’re not in the photo, it didn’t happen.” That’s what John Shahidi, CEO of the company that released the selfie-only photo-sharing app Shots of Me (backed by pop star Justin Bieber), told TechCrunch this week. This is not the only app on the market in which selfies play a large role. There’s also Frontback, which allows you to take simultaneous photos with both your front-facing and self-facing cameras to capture your expression as you look at something. Even Vine, which originally didn’t support shooting with the self-facing camera, found its users gravitated to this option as soon as the company added it as an update. As Kate Losse notes in the New Yorker, for social-networking sites like Instagram and SnapChat “the self is the message and the selfie is the medium.”

Since gracing the Internet, the word selfie has even had its own spinoffs. There’s the legsie, which is a selfie of legs. There are also bookshelfies, which are selfies taken in front of one’s bookshelf. Perhaps the most perverse type of selfie are funeral selfies, which are selfies taken on the way to, during or after a funeral, naturally. The fact that the word selfie has, in its short existence, already developed its own subcategories gives it the potential staying power that lexicographers look for when choosing whether or not to add a new word to the dictionary.

What do you think of this selfie phenomenon?


  1. Susann Patton -  March 30, 2014 - 3:40 pm

    I am sick to death of hearing about and seeing “selfies.” I think it is emblematic of our terrible self-involvement.

  2. Shark Fin -  March 19, 2014 - 8:50 am

    I personally can’t stand that someone, somewhere, decided to use ‘hashtag’ instead of ‘pound sign’, which we all know as either that or ‘number sign’.
    Does one symbol really need three names? Oh, because it’s on Twitter, it
    needs a fancier name? And like I’ve said from the beginning, would all of the
    Tweeters of the world please look up the root word of Twitter, that being Twit.
    Just calling out The Emperor’s New Clothes. Don’t be a sheep; sheep get
    slaughtered. Are there any individuals left out there who DON’T follow trends, their friends, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc., and actually look up from their phones for a minute to appreciate a beautiful sky or a fantastic sunset?
    Or feel the world around you, a breeze, a scent, the uniqueness of a flower?
    Who really cares what you just had for breakfast, what you’re wearing today, where you’re having lunch or what you’re making for dinner? I could not care less about that kind of stuff with my friends, nor could they about me. What makes the population of the U.S. think that everyone is or should be fascinated with their every living moment? Gee, what if your cell phone dies or the micro SD card gets wiped out…will you still have a life, a past and or memories? Or are you so reliant on your smart phones that they are living your life for you and without them, you are just a blank slate with nothing to say or recollect about your life? There’s so much more to life than racing to post useless things on a plethora of redundant websites.

  3. aret -  March 12, 2014 - 1:32 pm

    take care your back

  4. Clara -  March 12, 2014 - 3:45 am

    Love taking selfies

  5. wolf tamer and iron miner -  March 11, 2014 - 8:04 am

    I took some selfies the other day (although they didn’t turn out too well), and my mom instantly said, “Are you taking a selfie?” My MOM. Who doesn’t recognize “yeah” as a word. If she considers “selfie” to be a word, it’s probably a word. Look at Pam’s comments if you want more of my thoughts…great minds think alike, I guess. ;)

    Your comments made me grin. :D I completely agree with both of them…although I didn’t think of the Mirror of Erised. I think if we knew each other in real life we would be friends.

  6. Josh -  March 3, 2014 - 1:24 am

    What about a “stealthy” a photograph you take of yourself by accident. LOL

  7. leewis -  February 28, 2014 - 11:11 am

    nicee nnoons

  8. Espen -  February 24, 2014 - 2:24 pm

    Get some friends and have them take pictures of you.

  9. wolf tamer and coal miner -  February 9, 2014 - 5:07 am

    A hashtag is this: #. It used to be called a number sign or pound sign, or occasionally a star. It also looks like the tic-tac-toe grid. ;) I don’t really know what you use it for, but it’s pretty ubiquitous.

  10. Zippi -  February 5, 2014 - 3:31 pm

    {Curly_Brace}, here, in England, this, £, is a pound sign and this, #, is hash.

  11. Pam -  February 5, 2014 - 3:21 pm


    After further review and research, I have changed my mind.

    This is directed to all those who don’t think Selfie should be in the Dictionary.

    First Point: In 1963, Walt Disney made a movie titled Mary Poppins. It starred Julie Andrews and Vick van Dyke. For the movie, the Sherman brothers wrote a song titled [and here goes...] Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. Ok. *ttakes a minute to get back breath* There is a problem here that links these two subjects.

    It’s 2014. Miley Cyrus has taken the word “twerking” and completely made it a trademark of hers – can’t even turn on the television without seeing it. That’s taken how much time? [whispers in squeaky voice: "very little time at all!!"]

    These two words have been adopted into the dictionary in no time at all. And yet “selfie” is not recognized! People say it is narcissism. They say to let this word be known is to let the world fall into the world of Erised. [Go read Harry Potter if you don't recognize THAT word! :D]

    Second Point: Not to be offensive or anything, but seriously. If we don’t put selfie into the Dictionary, who will care? America and everyone else will continue saying it, continue doing it, and no lousy dictionary publisher can stop them.

    Third point: I unfortunately can bear witness to the fact that people take selfies at funerals. Let me say that last part again: AT FUNERALS. I was just at an aunt’s funeral when I saw her now-widowed husband -HER NOW-WIDOWED HUSBAND- whip out an iPhone and snap a picture. I watched as he continued and posted it ON FACEBOOK, ON TWITTER, and ON INSTAGRAM.


  12. Pam -  February 5, 2014 - 2:53 pm

    Selfie, I believe, is kind of weird. Please don’t like scream at me or anything. But when I type it, my computer Autocorrects it to Duckie. And it registers Autocorrect. WEIRD.

    The first time I heard “selfie” was when I was 10 years old. I was in a library bathroom and my friend walked in, stood in front of the mirror, and took a picture of herself taking a picture of herself. I felt really weird when I was like “Um.. what are you doing?” and she looked at me like I was stupid and said “Snapping a selfie.” and just walked away. I kind of forgot about it until two years later when I walked into the same bathroom and she comes too and she snaps a re-take of her ‘selfie.’ She asked me if I remembered what she was doing and I answered obediently “You are taking a selfie.” Ever since, I’ve remembered the word, but never really used it. I only take selfies when I’m climbing mountain and want to be able to show the world that I’m on top of it [never actually been to Everest but whatever you know? :D :D]

    So, I have no opinion if selfie should or should not be in the dictionary. All I know is, Frindle is in mine. [Look it up - it's a book] –Pam ⚡⚡

  13. wolf tamer and coal miner -  February 3, 2014 - 3:50 am

    I’m in 7th grade. Never assume that, just because you’re on a dictionary website, every commenter is an adult! ;)

  14. Jed Keegan -  January 30, 2014 - 6:34 pm

    bacon is beautiful

  15. {Curly_Brace} -  January 22, 2014 - 5:35 pm

    Call me old school, but I don’t like the word “selfie”. Don’t take it personally! D: I prefer the sentence: “Taking a picture of myself.” And what the heck is a hashtag?! Is it those pound signs? Confused, dazed, and really, really late!

  16. Isaac -  January 21, 2014 - 6:18 pm

    I know her. O.o

  17. Zippi -  January 21, 2014 - 5:06 am

    I heard the word, “selfie,” for the first time, about a month ago and since then, I have heard it almost every day; it is almost as though people are doing their level best to promote the word, to show that they are “with it.” Personally, I don’t like the word, leastwise, not in this context. It seems not to have any firm definition. I was of the understanding that it was a photograph, taken of ones self, by ones self (although, I’m with Jonathan and Surts and might start promoting that usage); this being the case, how can one take a “selfie” with somebody else in it? “Can I take a selfie, with you?” Does “selfie” simply mean a photograph with you in it, that you take yourself? What did we do, before we took “selfies?” I took pictures of myself, by request, usually to send to people, with whom I was conversing, online, who wanted to know what I looked like, or to my paramour, not to say, “look at where I am!” I’d get somebody else to take the picture, in order to show me in the context of my surroundings. “Bookshelfie?” “Legsie”? Really? Are people so lacking in imagination? Why, on Earth, would one want to take a photograph of ones self, at a funeral? As for the “self-facing camera,” mentioned in the article, surely that is just a camera that one points at ones self, not some technological marvel.

  18. alison -  January 13, 2014 - 7:09 pm

    …including me.

  19. alison -  January 13, 2014 - 7:08 pm

    the world is filled with narcissists.

  20. Sarah -  January 11, 2014 - 7:59 pm

    I agree that taking selfies at funeral is a little much and disrespectful, but I think there’s nothing wrong with selfies. And no, selfies don’t mean “narcissistic” or “self-centered”, it just plain means to take a picture/photo of oneself usually with a camera or phone. Just because you take a nice photo of yourself it doesn’t mean you care just about yourself and not others. Anyone could take a photo themselves and not be egotistic. If you’re opposing selfies and/or the people that do it, act like it’s none of your business–it’s a popular culture in American now and you can’t really stop it. Weren’t there countless cultures in America before? Also, I think it’s a nice way for someone to feel confident in how they look like and let others know what you’re up to. You say this a selfish generation? I don’t think so.

  21. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  December 31, 2013 - 5:24 am

    I support! :)

    Minecrafters forever!! :D

  22. andrewb47 -  December 30, 2013 - 6:24 am

    It says something about globalisation, social networking, technology penetration and the decline of marginal languages that ‘selfie’ has been declared the Dutch word of the year by Van Dale, the publishers of the leading Dutch dictionaries. http://www.vandale.nl/nl/woord-van-het-jaar/2013?#.UsGBZHn5jXU

  23. Whiffin -  December 26, 2013 - 5:21 pm

    Very affecting I must say

1 2 3

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked (required):

Related articles

Back to Top