November 13, 2012
Reddit, Buzzfeed, Tumblr and the Interwebs in general must be rejoicing. In a year rich with choices, Oxford American Dictionaries went with GIF, the acronym for graphic interchange format, as its 2012 word of the year.
Though the word was coined as a noun 25 years ago (and pronounced either with a hard or soft “G”), the Oxford intelligentsia picked it as a verb meaning “to create a GIF file of (an image or video sequence, especially relating to an event).”
“The GIF has evolved from a medium for pop-cultural memes into a tool with serious applications including research and journalism, and its lexical identity is transforming to keep pace,” Katherine Martin, head of the U.S. Dictionaries Program at Oxford University Press USA, wrote in a blog post about the selection.
Oxford University Press also chose a British word of the year: “omnishambles,” which means “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.”
Last year’s joint U.S. and U.K. winner was “squeezed middle,” a phrase that hasn’t exactly been tripping off American tongues in 2012. Other contenders for this year’s U.S. title included:
Eurogeddon: the potential financial collapse of the European Union countries that have adopted the euro, envisaged as having catastrophic implications for the region’s economic stability [from euro + (Arma)geddon]
Higgs boson: a subatomic particle whose existence is predicted by the theory that unified the weak and electromagnetic interactions
MOOC: massive open online course; a university course offered free of charge via the Internet
nomophobia: anxiety caused by being without one’s mobile phone [from no + mo(bile) + phobia]
Super PAC: a type of independent political action committee which may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates
superstorm: an unusually large and destructive storm
YOLO: you only live once; typically used as rationale or endorsement for impulsive or irresponsible behavior
Still, if GIF is the word of the year, we’re willing to bet that “fiscal cliff” will be the term of the month for November and December. As the Oxford Dictionaries editors have pointed out, that phrase has been used for decades, but Ben Bernanke’s use of it earlier this year took the phrase from a more general metaphor to one specifically attached to our current policy predicament. And if the cliff doesn’t get resolved perhaps it can still be a contender for Word of the Year in 2013.