There has been some widespread confusion on a few things relating to GIF’s selection as Word of the Year [USA], so we thought it would be helpful to give a little roundup for clarification.
(1) Oxford Dictionaries USA and The New Oxford American Dictionary (and Oxford Dictionaries UK and Oxford Dictionary of English) are not the Oxford English Dictionary. OUP publishes many dictionaries and the OED is only one of them.
(2) GIF (verb) is word of the year. We’re well aware that the acronym GIF has existed since 1987; it is the evolution of the acronym into a verb that we find lexically interesting. The language has evolved with the use of the GIF. (Additionally, Word of the Year doesn’t have to be a new word; it just has to exemplify the year. Higgs Boson and Super Pac are decades old, and they were both on our shortlist this year.)
(3) Oxford Dictionaries defines word as “a single distinct meaningful element of speech or writing, used with others (or sometimes alone) to form a sentence and typically shown with a space on either side when written or printed.” GIF, whether used as a noun in the traditional way or in the novel use as a verb that we have showcased in our Word of the Year choice, fits this definition. Many common words, such as radar and AIDS, are acronyms. The Word of the Year is a light-hearted effort by our lexicography team to showcase developments in the English lexicon. Words chosen will only be entered into our dictionaries if they meet our standards of evidence.
(4) People began using GIF as a verb this year. It is still a relatively new usage, so you may not have heard it. We offered a few selections in our previous pieces and a few web searches will show you how people are using the language (for example, the Tumblr hashtags gifed or giffing). Is it such an illogical step? Consider when you stopped searching things on Google and started Googling.
(5) GIFs may have roles beyond snark. They’re used in increasingly diverse contexts, and as much as quick humor is involved, the same gif can be recontextualized multiple times. One poorly-made animation can take on a multiplicity of meanings. This recent interview on Neiman Journalism Lab with Jessica Bennett covered many of the more serious use of GIFs — and the piece is a great read.
(6) The use of GIFs exploded in new areas in 2012, particularly animated GIFs, hence the importance of the verbal form. Check out a Google Trend search of “gif”. However, the file format’s overall share in web images is declining. Whether it’s a passing trend to vanish in 2013 remains to be seen. (*updated: 15 Nov, see below)
(7) We appreciate all the GIF puns. Keep them coming.
Do you have any questions about GIF? About the Oxford Dictionaries USA Word of the Year? Leave them in the comments below.
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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*Updated 15 November 2012 to include information from Zachary M. Seward’s article from The Atlantic.