Word of the Year 2012 (U.S.)

Like their counterparts at the Oxford English Dictionary in England, the editors of the Oxford American Dictionary recently selected the word of the year: GIF — an acronym for Graphic Interchange Format; a compressed file format for images that can be used to create simple, looping animations. According to the OED, GIF can be pronounced with a hard g (the most common) or a soft g. On May 21, 2013, the inventor of the GIF, Steve Wilhite, received a Webby Award for Lifetime Achievement. Wilhite created the GIF in June of 1987 when he was a programmer for Compuserve, the nation’s first online service. Wilhite used the occasion of the Webby Awards to finally settle the issue of how to pronounce GIF. Wilhite stated: “The Oxford English Dictionary accepts both pronunciations. [But] they are wrong. It is a soft ‘G,’ pronounced ‘jif.’ End of story.”

Katherine Martin, Head of U.S. Dictionaries Program, explained the selection of a rather prosaic techy word: “The GIF … turned 25 this year [July 15, 2012 was the 25th anniversary of the GIF; July 2012 was the 20th anniversary of the first GIF posted on the WWW], but like so many other relics of the 80s, it has never been trendier. GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun. 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.” Two notable highlights in GIFing in the past year include the viral ubiquity of Gangnam Style and the coverage of the Olympics.

Like many new words, there is not one definitive spelling of the verb yet. Oxford’s lexicographers have noted the following variant forms: GIFfing, .giffing, GIFing, giffing. Most likely, the last form will become the established spelling over time — requiring writers to override pesky autocorrection software that will suggest gifting.

Other words considered by the panel of judges included:
1. Eurogeddon: a portmanteau word — euro+(arma)geddon; the potential financial collapse of the Eurozone, having catastrophic implications for the region’s economic stability
2. Higgs boson: a subatomic particle whose existence is predicted by the theory that unified the weak and electromagnetic interactions
3. MOOC: Textese for Massive Open Online Course; a college course offered for free on the internet
4. Nomophobia: a portmanteau word — no + mo(bile) + phobia; the anxiety caused by not having one’s mobile phone
5. Super PAC: an independent political action committee that can raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates
6. Superstorm: a very large and destructive storm
7. YOLO: Textese for You Only Live Once; used as an endorsement or justification for impulsive or irresponsible behavior

Read related post: Word of the Year 2012 (UK)

For further reading: http://blog.oxforddictionaries.com/2012/11/us-word-of-the-year-2012/

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