GIF, America's Word of the Year, Is an Omnishambles

The Atlantic Wire

If you were to choose the word of the year, the year being 2012, what would you pick? Trust this will be a matter of much enjoyably conflict-filled discussion as we gear up for end of the year word lists. Could it be gaffe? Binders? Malarkey? Could it be a phrase, like fiscal cliff? Or what about something technology-based, or perhaps meme-ready? Maybe it's just portmanteau, given the tendency to portmanteau any and everything nowadays. Or how about such much despised words as literally, actually, or even ... moist?

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Oxford University Press has decided on its word(s) of the year, jumping the gun a bit given that it's only November. The holidays creep up on us earlier every year! They've chosen one semantic winner for British users and one for Americans. What are they?  

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For the British, writes the AP's Jill Lawless, it's omnishambles: “a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations." Lawless continues, "Coined by writers of the satirical television show The Thick of It, omnishambles has been applied to everything from government PR blunders to the crisis-ridden preparations for the London Olympics." Excellent, excellent—it beat out shortlisted words like mummy porn (mommy porn to Americans), Eurogeddon, the Mobot (for Mo Farah's victory dance), and, for the love of God, YOLO (You Only Live Once, you guys). Omnishambles has the added benefit of bringing us the term Romneyshambles. This makes it, in the parlance, "linguistically productive."

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On the disappointing side of things, however, "this year’s American champion is GIF, short for graphics interchange format, a common format for images on the Internet." Really? GIF? GIF is blowing our minds not only because as word of the year it seems, dare we say, a little old-fashioned.

@ktlincoln @mattlanger The year is 1994. The word of the year in the U.S. is "GIF." In the UK it's "acid house"

— Dan Nosowitz (@dannosowitz) November 12, 2012

Also, there's the pronunciation issue:

can't believe i've been pronouncing "GIF" wrong for forever. it's "heef." as in, "look at this cool heef." #fyi

— Emma Carmichael (@emmacargo) November 12, 2012

If you disagree (and there is at this point no evidence that Carmichael is not trolling all of us), there's this, from The GIF Pronunciation Page:

The GIF graphics file format was invented by CompuServe in 1987. [Emphasis ours.] In the years since, a debate has been raging as to the correct way to pronounce "GIF": like "jif" as in the peanut butter, or with a hard 'g' as in "gift" as a majority of Mac users seem to prefer. With this page I intend to clear this up once and for all...

It's pronounced like "jif". Period. The end. That's final. End of story.

However you should say it, should GIF really be word of the year? The Atlantic Wire's resident GIF expert Elspeth Reeve weighed in, saying, "I think math should be the word of the year. GIF is a tool, not a concept." She adds, "the UK got a much better word.  Not that I don't love GIFs! I think they're still looking for something that was as good as the time truthiness was word of the year."

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But wait: According to word expert Ben Zimmer, Oxford actually "meant GIF as a verb. That got left out of the wire story." This is confirmed by BetaBeat's Jessica Roy,

"GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun,” Katherine Martin, head of the US dictionaries program at Oxford said in a statement. “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.”

We were giffed. Does that change things for you? If not, we are currently taking your nominations for word of the year. Tell us what word and why. Because just because Oxford says it doesn't make it law. Also: Heef? Not acceptable.

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GIF via Holy Horcrux/Jenny Deluxe.

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