Unselfies: Words Worthy of a Thousand Pictures

I got wind of the unselfie movement yesterday, November 19, 2013, when I saw my hometown friend Mark Jaegar’s new Facebook photo:


Unselfie? What kind of hashtag is that? I had to find out. Well, first I went to the Red Cross website and donated in Mark’s honor. Then I investigated.

The word unselfie, it turns out, derives from selfie, one of those photos that people snap of themselves, usually with one arm sticking out toward the viewer, sometimes with a telltale flash from a mirror. Yesterday, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) anointed selfie the 2013 word of the year. Noting that selfie traces back to 2002, when it was used in an Australian online forum, the OED announcement goes on to describe the term’s current popularity—its frequency of use “has increased by 17,000 percent since this time last year”—and to list some playful variations:

The word gained momentum throughout the English-speaking world in 2013 as it evolved from a social media buzzword to mainstream shorthand for a self-portrait photograph. Its linguistic productivity is already evident in the creation of numerous related spin-off terms showcasing particular parts of the body like helfie (a picture of one’s hair) and belfie (a picture of one’s posterior); a particular activity – welfie (workout selfie) and drelfie (drunken selfie), and even items of furniture — shelfie and bookshelfie.*

People are responding to the OED decision in various social media by posting selfies that defy the self-centered nature of self-portraits. Of course, this phenomenon isn’t new. People have been replacing their faces with symbols on Facebook and other channels for some time now, sometimes to play around, sometimes to raise awareness. But given the OED spotlight on the term selfie—and the recent devastation of Typhoon Haiyan—it’s time to take more than our cameras into our own hands.

David Guerrero, chairman and chief creative officer of BBDO Guerrero, who lives in Manila, has initiated an unselfie campaign to help Typhoon Haiyan victims. David tweets at @bbdoguerrero. See his Twitter page for inspiring messages from around the world—or go to www.twitter.com and search on #unselfie to see posts like these:


See also the unselfie webpage, www.unselfie.me, which, at the moment, looks like this:


Here’s my unselfie:


Got an unselfie in you? Let’s find out how many ships a thousand faces can launch.

* Chris Gayomali, “Selfie: Your 2013 Oxford English Dictionary Word of the Year,” The Week, Nov. 19, 2013, http://theweek.com/article/index/252991/selfie-your-2013-oxford-english-dictionary-word-of-the-year

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