A Brief Defense of This Year's Most Annoying Words

We're sick of 'selfie' and 'twerking,' but are we done with the discussions that surround them?

The term “selfie,” like the one being taken here by President Barack Obama and others, became a controversial word and practice in 2013.

The term “selfie,” like the one being taken here by President Barack Obama and others, became a controversial word and practice in 2013.

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A Michigan university would like to see some of this year's most buzzed about words, including "selfie," twerking" and "Obamacare," banished in 2014. Lake Superior State University released its annual list of most annoying words, chosen by nomination.[ READ: Oxford Dictionary Names 'Selfie' as the Word of the Year]While there's little doubt of the list's words' prevalence – a number were recently added to official dictionaries, topped 2013 word of the year lists and were among Google's most searched terms. But just because we're sick of them doesn't mean we're done with the discussions that surround them. A brief defense of some of these words' existence:"Selfie": "Selfie" – referring to a photographic self-portrait usually shot with one's smart phone – tops Lake Superior's list, as Oxford Dictionary also named it word of the year. While commenters were happy to mock it, with one punning that the word is "selfie-serving" and another pleading for "selflessies," the word and practice has been defended elsewhere.This week actor and prolific selfie-taker James Franco weighed in on the debate:"We all have different reasons for posting them, but, in the end, selfies are avatars: Mini-Me's that we send out to give others a sense of who we are," he wrote in The New York Times. "I am actually turned off when I look at an account and don't see any selfies, because I want to know whom I'm dealing with."His op-ed spurred some eye-rolling on the internet – in part because of his own association with cultural fatigue. However, another New York Times piece earlier this year by its technology reporter, backed up Franco's claims.
They are often more effective at conveying a feeling or reaction than text. Plus, we've become more comfortable seeing our faces on-screen, thanks to services like Snapchat, Skype, Google Hangout and FaceTime, and the exhilarating feeling of connectedness that comes from even the briefest video conversation. Receiving a photo of the face of the person you're talking to brings back the human element of the interaction, which is easily misplaced if the interaction is primarily text-based.Be them self-expressive or self-involved, selfies will likely continue in 2014, especially as the president and the pope count themselves as prominent selfie-takers."Hashtag": The hashtag's origin story goes back to 2007, when a techie suggested its use on Twitter to organize content by subject matter. Its transcendence from Twitter, the medium that created it, was cemented when the American Dialect Society named it 2012 word of the year and by 2013 pop stars like Mariah Carey and will.i.am were naming songs or even entire albums with hashtags."Seems to me as if the hashtag has finally broken free of its Twitter role as a topic marker and set itself up as a free-standing typographic ornament," UC Berkeley School of Information linguist Geoff Nunberg told U.S. News. Added Ben Zimmer -- who chairs the New Words Committee of the American Dialect Society, produces the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, and writes about language for the Boston Globe – "Used in many creative ways, the hashtag ends up being used in jokes, for various memes, for self effacing commentary – a kind of meta-commentary on one's message."[ ALSO: Do All These #PopSongs Mean the Hashtag Is Here to Stay?]Rather than call for its banishment, hashtag-haters may be better off hoping for the words death by overuse, say linguists. Words like "cool" and "rad" got a lot less cool once old fogies started saying them."Twerking": The dance move made infamous by Miley Cyrus's 2013 Video Music Awards performance was actually likely coined by the Ying Yang Twins in 2000, with their song "Whistle While You Twurk." But Cyrus, along with her twerking, came to represent some of this most virulent debates among cultural critics this year, namely the sexual agency of female performers and cultural appropriation of black stereotypes by white artists.Writes Alyssa Rosenberg of Think Progress: