Cameras have always been used for self-portraits, but it took the smartphone revolution — especially Apple’s addition of a front-facing camera to the iPhone 4 in 2010 — to make the “selfie” ubiquitous. The perfect blend of narcissism and social media, selfies have been taken and shared with the world by everyone from Hillary Clinton to Kim Kardashian. Curiosity, NASA’s Mars rover, beamed back a few selfies from its Gale Crater landing site. Even Pope Francis posed this summer for a selfie taken in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Selfies have made news, too, and usually not the good kind. Anthony Weiner sank his political career with selfies. A notorious Rolling Stone magazine cover in August featured a selfie of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who faces terrorism charges in the Boston Marathon bombing .
So when Oxford University Press, publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, pronounced “selfie” its word of the year for 2013, it was only acknowledging the inevitable. Lexicographers record the language as it is, however self-centered, obnoxious, or faddish the phenomena it describes. Besides, Oxford’s choice could have been worse: Among the terms “selfie” beat was “twerk.”