Will ‘Selfie’ stick?



Earlier this year I welcomed selfie as a new word that reflected the unselfish selfishness of the currently young millennial generation, epitomized by the Electronic Dance Music song “Selfie” by the Chainsmokers.

That, I thought, was my last word on selfie. But I was wrong. I had missed an important accessory, the selfie stick. This is a device that extends the reach of the camera to twice arm’s length (one arm, one stick, end to end) so the selfie can capture a wider picture. It’s not widely used in the western hemisphere, but it’s so popular in Asia that South Korea, for example, has banned unregistered ones. That’s because the selfie stick triggers the camera by Bluetooth remote control, and Bluetooth devices have to be registered there.

That got me thinking about selfie itself once more. It’s widely used nowadays, but is it going to become a permanent part of the English language?

Fortunately, I have an answer to that question. It comes from a study I did some years ago to answer the question why some new words catch on for good while others fade away. For Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success\"\"\” target=\”_blank\”>Predicting New Words: The Secrets of Their Success (Houghton Mifflin, 2002), I came up with five factors that influence whether a new word becomes permanent. They form a convenient acronym, FUDGE. Here’s how to apply it to answer the question whether selfie will be in our vocabulary two generations hence:

Frequency of use: Yes, very frequent already. This criterion gets 2 points, the maximum.

Unobtrusiveness: A word that stands out because of odd spelling or attempt at humor may be laughed at but won’t be likely to last. Selfie avoids that conspicuousness. It is composed of familiar elements and isn’t a joke (although some say the activity is, not the word), so it also gets the maximum 2 points for being unobtrusive. Admittedly, you could say it has captured enough attention to be somewhat obtrusive, maybe for a score of 1.

Diversity of users and uses: Well, it’s not just the millennials who take selfies. There’s also the president of the United States, for one. I’d give this category 2 points as well.

Generation of other forms and meanings: Lots of them. Just in urbandictionary.com, for example, you can find selfie-absorbed (people who chronicle every mundane detail of their lives by posting selfies), selfie-bomb (taking a selfie with something amazing in the background), selfie-cide (death caused while trying to take dangerous selfie pic), selfie face (the phony facial expression that people assume while taking a selfie), and more than three dozen others. And there is the #unselfie, celebrated just yesterday on “Giving Tuesday” by posting photos urging gifts to charities. Another 2 points.

Endurance of the concept: It took the technological accomplishment of the iPhone 4 in 2010, with its self-facing camera, to make the current style of selfies possible. But before the Internet there had been photo booths providing quick black-and-white self-portraits, beloved by young people with friends. And before photography—well, artists did self portraits. The technology of selfies is likely to continue to change, but selfies will always be around in one form or another. 2 points here too.

That makes 10 points for selfie, the maximum (Or 9, if you question Unobtrusiveness). Like a baby with an Apgar rating of 10, it’s as healthy as possible. The only way to be sure of its success is to wait 40 years for the next two generations, but go ahead and file this post under the label “to be opened in 2054.” Our successors will then say, “You mean they had selfies that far back, when they actually had to use metal devices? How primitive!”