OUPblog > Language > Word of the Year > How we decide Word of the Year [GIFed]

How we decide Word of the Year [GIFed]

By Alice Northover


Many people are curious about the process behind the selection of Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year and I thought it would be appropriate to express this in gif form. Here’s my completely biased perspective as blog editor on my first Word of the Year committee.

You receive an email saying you’re on the Word of the Year committee and you feel so important.

But you have to wait a couple weeks for the actual longlist from which you submit your top five choices and the reasons why.

Serious thought is given on lexical interest, significance to this year, and the impact of the word. (Will usage increase? Does it capture the zeitgeist?)

But you’re ruthless in your selections.

A couple weeks after that we receive the shortlist, which contains words you’re not thrilled about.

Finally, the Word of the Year meeting takes place.

We first tackle a couple recent additions to the list that are significant and interesting, but potentially insensitive. Everyone concurs this isn’t the best choice.

We next tackle some intriguing new political words, but everyone is suffering from election fatigue.

Someone suggests a word that Gawker was making fun of five years ago and you don’t see how it says “2012”.

Someone else suggests a word everyone else hates.

Marketing is really pushing for a word, but editorial doesn’t find it lexically significant. Tension rises.

Then someone starts talking enthusiastically about the Higgs boson, but no one else cares.

The meeting becomes increasingly awkward as no clear frontrunner emerges.

Words continue to be nominated and eliminated, and we are in danger of being there all day.

Finally there’s a secret ballot by which time everyone is approaching one of two emotional states:

And the decision is made although no one seems particularly thrilled about it. You have to look vaguely supportive.

Our editorial team has to run it past their dictionary overlords, who disapprove.

One editor expresses interest in the word GIF.

And you agree perhaps this would make a better candidate for WOTY.

So you ask around for people’s thoughts.

Finally, a pitch for GIF as WOTY is made. You brace for the response.

But people actually like the word.

GIF has saved the day.

We must ensure commitment.

And then we finally have WOTY!

And all you want to do is tell people.

But you can’t share the news of the selection. It’s top secret.

And in all the bottled-up excitement, you realize you have to do this all again next year.

Alice Northover joined Oxford University Press as Social Media Manager in January 2012. She is editor of the OUPblog, constant tweeter @OUPAcademic, daily Facebooker at Oxford Academic, and Google Plus updater of Oxford Academic, amongst other things. You can learn more about her bizarre habits on the blog.

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Image credit: I have made a good faith attempt to find the originators of these gifs, but I can only in certainty ascertain those which are stamped with the originator (example: NatGeo Gifs). If you’re the creator of one of these gifs, please let me know which and I’d be happy to link back to your site. Also let me know if you’d like your gif removed.

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22 Responses to “How we decide Word of the Year [GIFed]”
  1. Kathy says:

    This blog post is hilarious! Are you a Tumblr fangirl? Brilliant!

  2. Lauren Appelwick says:

    Well played, Ms. Northover. Well. Played.

  3. [...] note: The selection process told using GIF animations. Like this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  4. [...] Check it out: You receive an email saying you’re on the Word of the Year committee and you feel so important. But you have to wait a couple weeks for the actual longlist from which you have to submit your top five choices and the reasons why. Serious thought is given on lexical interest, significance to this year, and the impact of the word. (Will usage increase? Does it capture the zeitgeist?) But you’re ruthless in your selections. A couple weeks after that we receive the shortlist, which contains words you’re not thrilled about. Finally, the Word of the Year meeting takes place. [...]

  5. [...] at the OUP Blog,  social media manager Alice Northover explained how they made the selection, complete with a series of [...]

  6. Shelly Rafferty says:

    Now we all know what to be thankful for this Thanksgiffing.

  7. Alex B. says:

    I see Pinkie Pie.

  8. [...] http://blog.oup.com/2012/11/how-we-decide-word-of-the-year-gifed/ Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

  9. Rhona Vose says:

    Brilliant Alice..Is Benedict Cumberbatch your ideal Gif?

  10. Alice says:

    Given the number of comments on Twitter (and now here), I’d like to clarify: The prevalence of Benedict Cumberbatch is due primarily to his appearance in gifs that don’t contain swear words. I think that says a great deal about the language usage of Benedict Cumberbatch fans.

  11. Kate says:

    Please bring your bizarre habits and GIF talents to tumblr.

  12. Alice says:

    Hi Kate!

    Don’t worry. There are plans afoot in Oxford spires. The work of tumblrarians has not gone unnoticed.

    –Alice, OUPblog Editor

  13. George Brims says:

    All this selection process, and you pick an acronym coined in 1987? I did enjoy the selection of animations though!

  14. Alice says:

    Hi George,

    Thank you! Covered in our confusables post: GIF, the verb, was selected and Word of the Year doesn’t have to be a new word.

    –Alice, OUPblog Editor

  15. [...] How the Oxford University Press decided Word of the Year [...]

  16. [...] sequence, especially relating to an event).” Wondering how Oxford came up with GIF? Here are some animated GIFs that tell the tale. Also check out these 11 former WOTY candidates that are now [...]

  17. [...] wonder how the Word of the Year is picked? Oxford University Press gives readers an inside look at the competitive selection process to pick the Oxford Dictionaries [...]

  18. [...] • How Oxford University Press picks its word of the year. [...]

  19. [...] The word of the year is “GIF.” Here’s how it was chosen, in GIFs. [...]

  20. [...] GIF! The good folks at Oxford Dictionary has given us the most wonderful validation ever by naming GIF its Word of the Year. Never mind the fact that GIF is actually an acronym for graphics interchange format. Technicalities, I say! Gif’s are awesome and to celebrate their decision, one of the judges, Alice Northover, explained how they made their decision in a gif story over at Oxford University Press’ blog. [...]

  21. [...] Northover tells the story in the best possible way: with gifs. She tells the story [...]

  22. [...] Do check out the blog entry by one of the judges on the panel. [...]

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