Dictionary.com

Selfie: A Portrait of a Word

selfie

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?

73 Comments

  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.

    Reply
  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.

    Reply
  3. aret -  March 12, 2014 - 1:32 pm

    take care your back

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

    Love taking selfies

    Reply
  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. ;)

    @Pam:
    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.

    Reply
  6. Josh -  March 3, 2014 - 1:24 am

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

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

    nicee nnoons

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

    Get some friends and have them take pictures of you.

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

    @{Curly_Brace}:
    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.

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

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

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

    [continued]

    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.

    WHAT THE HECK.

    Reply
  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 ⚡⚡

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

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

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

    bacon is beautiful

    Reply
  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!

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

    I know her. O.o

    Reply
  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.

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

    …including me.

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

    the world is filled with narcissists.

    Reply
  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.

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

    @TJ:
    I support! :)

    Minecrafters forever!! :D

    Reply
  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

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

    Very affecting I must say

    Reply
  24. cow -  December 21, 2013 - 4:01 pm

    they spelled bieber wrong. how dare you!

    Reply
  25. cow -  December 21, 2013 - 4:01 pm

    #selfiesunday

    Reply
  26. Kate -  December 19, 2013 - 8:23 am

    I think the problem with the new “selfie” era, is not the pictures in general but the attitude that comes with the fad. People have become so myopically introverted, they have forgotten how to assert themselves introspectively, and extrospectively, things needed for the betterment of society. And although I agree with the quote “the occasional selfie appears to nudge some friends who I haven’t seen in a while to get in touch”, the reason people in general are so out of touch in the first place is largely to blame from the smartphone junky issue which is furthered by the vanity we are prompted to displayed constantly, also known as selfie-dom.

    Reply
  27. j -  November 23, 2013 - 3:25 pm

    jonathan is right and i agree with him a quickie and a selfie rhyme so i thought they were related somehow
    lols

    Reply
  28. Surts -  November 23, 2013 - 6:41 am

    Selfie isn’t a new word. It is an old term used by merchant sailors who were at sea a long time meaning self-gratification. Now it seems to be about stroking your ego . . .

    Reply
  29. Ben -  November 22, 2013 - 11:17 pm

    Selfie sounds trendie… but it wouldn’t be the first such word in the dictionary, many of the words which have evolved over the centuries are trendy words, in use for as long as they last… Ever notice how fickle the public is? Always looking for the the next trendy word? I believe you’ll be left in the dust in a few with this one..

    Reply
  30. Clementine -  November 22, 2013 - 4:15 pm

    I think that i even took selfies before it existed

    Reply
  31. MustacheLover -  November 21, 2013 - 7:45 pm

    what kind of person dosn’t like to take selfies ahhahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh i love taking selfies

    Reply
  32. Jonathan -  November 21, 2013 - 7:28 pm

    ummm… given the meaning of the word quickie, I always assumed that a ‘selfie’ was sexual…

    Reply
  33. Karen M. -  November 21, 2013 - 6:36 pm

    I didn’t even know that people even took selfies at funerals before reading this article, that’s terrible…….

    Anyways, I personally don’t mind selfies, it’s just hard to respect them when people (and by people I mean girls) take a selfie every five seconds…..DURING class!!!!

    Reply
  34. TJ -  November 21, 2013 - 6:26 pm

    I think that selfies r fun but sometimes they get annoying like when people take 10000 a day. Then it is definitely annoying. I mean sometimes it is fun if u have something that u r doing in the backround 2 show what u r doing so then it is like a selfie but it also shows what u r doing. Sometimes it is fun also to photobomb some people’s selfies but they still post on Instagram or something like that. Sometimes u just want 2 show some of ur friends in the pic so u take “a friend selfie”. IDK. But to have specific groups for like FUNERAL SELFIES! That went just a little bit too far. Although, sometimes when u r bored and u take a selfie, post it on Instagram, and say “I’m bored!” in the comments. That is like saying u have nothing to do when ur at Disneyland and u haven’t rode one ride yet or done anything yet. I mean there is so much 2 do. EVERYWHERE u r! Even if ur mom or dad says u can’t do what u want 2 do. Come on, think of something else. There is plenty!

    Reply
  35. Bester than all of you peoples -  November 21, 2013 - 9:02 am

    @MmmGorgeous is the Selfie King

    Reply
  36. Primrose Everdeen -  November 21, 2013 - 6:19 am

    :) DUCK FAYCEEE!

    Reply
  37. Sweet Suspense Should Not Have Been Kicked Off The X Factor -  November 21, 2013 - 5:08 am

    @Someone:
    If we have any more self-esteem, we’ll start believing we’re gods. (Although I think he-who-shall-not-be-named [*cough* Kanye West *cough*] has already crossed that line… >~P)

    Why would so many people take selfies of their legs – or in front of bookshelves – or at a funeral – that it becomes a phenomenon and requires its own name?

    Reply
  38. Quinn W. -  November 20, 2013 - 6:03 pm

    Everyone is always taking selfies. There is nothing wrong with it its something that everyone does. Earlier today i was taking a photo bomb with friends. It is basically a selfie with a lot of people. I don’t know why everyone is complaining about it. It will go away like all fads do. I’m in 7th grade and i realize that. Why don’t you all just stop acting like kids, and go with the flow.

    Reply
  39. Wyatt (Sup) -  November 20, 2013 - 5:57 pm

    What the heck. boys dont care about selfies, so if youre trying to get someone to like you, show a picture of yourself smilng and not of you drinking soup. Or whatever youre doing. Just smile and look at the camera, dont try to hard.

    Reply
  40. 1Dfan -  November 20, 2013 - 3:06 pm

    I first heard the word Selfie from a Nickelodeon show called The Thunderman.

    Reply
  41. Rayyyy -  November 20, 2013 - 3:02 pm

    SELFIES FOR LIFE!!! jk selfies can get really annoying especially the people who post like 1000000 a day

    Reply
  42. David Sokolow (Techno) -  November 20, 2013 - 1:34 pm

    my friends are all like Selfie!! i’m in the background like -_- really…

    Reply
  43. D3ADP00L -  November 20, 2013 - 1:26 pm

    Wow…… Just…. Wow….. Stay classy America…..

    Reply
  44. andrewtungsk -  November 20, 2013 - 4:27 am

    The word may evolved to describe today’s generation: Selfies

    Reply
  45. Sue F. Innsecurry -  November 20, 2013 - 2:51 am

    All I know is when you find yourself photo-bombing your selfie, get help. Surely by now that has been granted membership into the AMA’s journal of psychiatric disorders. Located just beneath MS D/O. (multiple selfie disorder) aka Selfi

    Reply
  46. Sue F. Innsecurry -  November 20, 2013 - 1:54 am

    And whose idea was it to intrude, on such a large scale, cellphone cameras into what was once personally, for the most part, intimate hiatuses of relaxation?? Is it just me or am I on a different page here?

    Either way, IMHO, once you broadcast a selfie it should no longer be classified as such. it should immediately become defined as a selfwie….. selfwe? sp
    Or maybe something real creative like a PiC…..truly revolutionary.

    Reply
  47. Sue F. Innsecurry -  November 20, 2013 - 1:27 am

    I just pray that all these newly uninhibited self-selfie’ers (sp)? don’t discover the concept of a microcosmical selfie; the infinite selfie, ugh…….ugh ugh.

    Reply
  48. Kittylord_MEAOW! -  November 20, 2013 - 12:54 am

    Bla bla bla bla boring boring boring……..

    BUT I DO LIKE TAKING SELFIES!!!!!!!!!!!!
    (apart from when they 100% fail)

    LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL

    Reply
  49. Ti R. -  November 19, 2013 - 6:37 pm

    Like the description but still, I don’t think this word would make it that far …selfie… ;)

    Reply
  50. Someone -  November 19, 2013 - 6:00 pm

    I think that selfies are a good way to boost self esteem and tell people more about your self. Also, I believe that it is starting to become part of our (and others) culture.
    ~
    ~
    Why would enough people take selfies in front of a bookshelf for it to become a phenomenon?

    Reply
  51. looloolagoon -  November 19, 2013 - 4:06 pm

    hahahahahhahahahahahahahahahahhahahahahaha hfvahah rfver 8 SELFIES!!!!!11 ;-)

    Reply
  52. Kahla -  November 19, 2013 - 10:22 am

    Cool. Now I understand what selfies are

    Reply
  53. Mikey -  November 19, 2013 - 6:18 am

    I’m not as smart as any of you. I’m in 9th grade and I’m doing my best to pass. Anyway i started reading the comments and thanks for making me smarter. :)
    I now understand better and even though selfie is going to go away in a few years. Thanks all

    Reply
  54. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  November 19, 2013 - 5:40 am

    Just one more way to glorify “number one” – cuz that’s exactly what we need, right? Sheesh.

    @Chris Moran: There’s an app for that. (I don’t think there really is one, but that’s how the thingy goes…) :-)

    @Jaime:
    Selfie is short for self-portrait. And long for “seh.”

    @Psyquis52:
    Wow. That’s like, “The best thing about my secret collection of secrets is secretly telling a secret to somebody, but keeping it all secret from everyone else – unless they secretly know my secrets already!”. If you want to see a contest of who can say the most secret’s in one sentence, find the article about the misuse of the word ironic. The contest is down near the bottom. And actually, it’s not hedonistic, which means living solely for pleasure, but I get your point.

    Reply
  55. teee -  November 19, 2013 - 12:43 am

    We also call selfies, a ‘selca’. :) Selca can come from ‘Self Capture’ or ‘Self Cam’

    Reply
  56. Shizzle McQuizzle -  November 18, 2013 - 8:12 pm

    “Selfies” were definitely not as popular until apps such as Instagram, SnapChat, and Vine came into play. In my opinion selfies are a fun way to communicate with others. Apps such as SnapChat allow your friends to see your reaction or emotions in a conversation. Playful faces (one of the more popular being the “Duck Face”) have materialized recently as well. I believe selfies will continue to evolve in the future.

    Reply
  57. kimluvv -  November 18, 2013 - 7:03 pm

    There are also things called Selca that are used around the Eastern Asian Countries (South Korea) that came out before Selfie. I think it’s supposed to be a smaller version of “Self Capture”.

    Reply
  58. Jaime -  November 18, 2013 - 2:56 pm

    Why can’t people just call it a self-portrait?

    Reply
  59. derp -  November 18, 2013 - 8:38 am

    selfies are just pics taken by you of you and stop trying to answer so smart

    Reply
  60. Psyquis52 -  November 18, 2013 - 6:37 am

    I tried to post a selfie of myself on myself from somebody else but found that selfies are difficult with multiples of myself in my selfie.

    I completely agree with Kevin, Jennifer, and selfless. I’m not a fan of selfies. The word alone causes me to cringe. I would much rather people decided to talk to one another and perhaps elevate the other guy first. We’re in a society of people who are constantly after the “big numero uno” and it’s terribly hedonistic. I would much rather committ my energies to seeing others do well than myself. Selfless is the perfect word for it.

    Reply
  61. selfish and proud -  November 17, 2013 - 11:06 pm

    My favourite thing about people who mock selfie culture for being so “self-involved” is that they mostly do it to feel better about themselves. Talk about self-involved–your pretentious dictionary words don’t make you look any less insecure or selfless, kid. ;)

    Reply
  62. Katriel W. -  November 17, 2013 - 2:27 pm

    I don’t see how people can unashamedly take pictures of themselves. It’s really silly. Little kids do that when they play with cameras (although they usually just get their own nose). All most people think about is themselves, and promoting themselves. I don’t even like pictures being taken of me, so I think “selfie”s are dumb.

    Reply
  63. wolf tamer and tree puncher -  November 17, 2013 - 12:36 am

    Where do people come up with these utterly random subcategories? Who in the world takes a selfie at a funeral for goodness’ sake? And if you do, why do we need a separate name for it?

    On a side note, I find it strange that the word “selfie” is underlined in red on Dictionary.com’s spell checker.

    Reply
  64. Elsie -  November 17, 2013 - 12:35 am

    I’ll be glad to see this word disappear from the lexicon.

    Reply
  65. Chris Moran -  November 17, 2013 - 12:24 am

    Hmm, Narcissus, good name for an app! (copyright chrismoran 2013)

    Reply
  66. Erin -  November 16, 2013 - 5:11 pm

    This was a nice read, but I still don’t think this answered where exactly the word “selfie” came from?

    I’d love to know more on how the term became the term that it is, especially if the self-portrait idea has been established for a long time. Why the particular word “selfie?”

    Reply
  67. Laura Nass -  November 16, 2013 - 1:53 pm

    Cyberquill– Nah, Elsie is a programmer I used to work with :)

    To answer the question, since the concept of what you call a “selfie” is already long-established, I have a feeling that the word “selfie” is just current slang. I expect in the future it will be expanded to include other things that you do, yourself (DIY)

    But let’s not be selfish…

    Reply
  68. selfless -  November 16, 2013 - 12:36 am

    In this age of extreme narcissism, the smart phone and social apps allow people to be utterly solipsistic. Only the self exists. People are enamored of their own image — and we know what happened to Narcissus.

    Reply
  69. Jennifer -  November 15, 2013 - 11:16 pm

    Could we be a little more self involved?

    Reply
  70. Kevin -  November 15, 2013 - 4:43 am

    Far too much emphasis is placed on the “selfie” people have been doing this for years. It’s not new it has just been brought to the limelight BECAUSE of social networking. So to call it a phenomenon is quite a stretch. It should be something more intellectual that better describes the year as a whole. This will take more thought.

    Reply
  71. Cyberquill -  November 15, 2013 - 3:37 am

    An elsie is a photo that someone else takes of you.

    Reply

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