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noun [countable] informal

a photograph of you taken by yourself, usually for use in social media

'If cinema was the great art form of the 20th century, the selfie (a self-portrait uploaded to social media sites) will stand as the pinnacle of creative expression in the 21st.'

New York Daily News 10th April 2013

'He's noticed that when he doesn't post a selfie, his followers go down by fifty a day. A lot of people are following him because of the selfies.'

Courier Mail [Australia] 15th April 2013

Even as little as ten years ago, the idea of pointing a camera at your own face and taking a picture which you later share with a random group of people would have been considered unusual, a bit weird, ostentatious even. These days however, it's not only a perfectly acceptable but also a fashionable thing to do, as the popularity of social media steers us on a course of self-interest epitomized by the selfie.

some people argue that the popularity of the selfie … is a cultural marker of the current generation. The selfie could be considered another example of the kind of narcissistic tendencies … engendered by social media

A selfie is a picture of yourself that you take using a camera on a mobile phone or other hand-held device, usually composed of no more than head and shoulders. Selfies are often taken with a pose and/or camera angle that attempts to add a little something unique – not just a conventional picture of someone looking straight at the camera. The domain of the selfie is almost always digital – they are not printed, framed and put on the mantelpiece, but circulated via mobile phones, tablets, etc, for consumption by fellow partakers of social media. Arguably this is the key to their appeal – we can use them to remind each other of what we actually look like, or to put a face to names where acquaintance is restricted to the online universe. But of course another possible reason for the emergence of the selfie is practical – in the analogue era of photography, it was awkward to take a photo of yourself, and potentially rather wasteful to use up one of your precious exposures on a roll of film for a picture that would more than likely be out of focus. Today by contrast, we can snap away, bin anything we're not happy with, and edit and titivate to our heart's content to get that all-important image we're so keen to circulate.

Some people argue that the popularity of the selfie, like social media and reality TV, is a cultural marker of the current generation. The selfie could be considered another example of the kind of narcissistic tendencies (interest in your own life, appearance, experiences etc) engendered by social media, a phenomenon which previously spawned the term Facebook narcissism. Whatever you think about the selfie, it's a concept which seems to be embraced by a range of ages and walks of life, as this photograph of world famous actress Meryl Streep and former US secretary of State Hillary Clinton aptly illustrates.

Background – selfie

The term selfie, sometimes though less commonly spelt selfy, first emerged in 2004 as a catchy Internet abbreviation of the word self-portrait. It was initially used as a hashtag on photo-sharing sites to indicate that the subject of a photo was the person who had uploaded it, but gradually began to take on a life of its own as a general reference to a self-taken digital photo.

Selfie/selfy is a recent example of the use of suffix -ie/-y to form diminutive nouns and pet names (compare, e.g. kid > kiddie, television > telly, Bill > Billy, etc). The same process also features in lappy, a newly coined reference to laptop, though this has so far been slower to catch on. In British English, use of -ie/-y generally has affectionate overtones, and its adoption in selfie could perhaps have been inspired by observing that it often features in 'guilty pleasures' or indulgences, as in e.g. choccy, biccy, drinkies, etc.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

For teachers

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This article was first published on 2nd July 2013.

Open Dictionary

Dunning-Kruger effect

the phenomenon by which an incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence

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