GIF is Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year

13 Nov 2012

Technically speaking, the Oxford American Dictionary’s word of the year isn’t a word at all, but an acronym: GIF.

GIF, which stands for graphics interchange format, has been around for 25 years now. CompuServe first released GIF in 1987, but it has evolved in recent years to most often depict various topics in an animated and humorous way.

“GIF celebrated a lexical milestone in 2012, gaining traction as a verb, not just a noun,” Katherine Martin, head of the US dictionaries programme at Oxford, told the Oxford Dictionaries blog.

“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.”

According to Oxford Dictionaries Online, GIF is defined as:

  • GIF, noun; a lossless format for compressing image files

Obama wins

GIF beat out other tech terms for the World of the Year title, among them nomophobia (anxiety caused by being without one’s mobile phone [from no and mo(bile) + phobia]) and MOOC (massive open online course; a university course offered free of charge via the internet).

“The Word of the Year is chosen annually as a word that has attracted interest and that embodies in some way the ethos of the year,” the blog entry reads.

“It need not have been coined within the past 12 months and it does not have to be a word that will endure for a significant length of time: it is very difficult to accurately predict which new words will have staying power. And while the Word of the Year has great resonance for 2012, that doesn’t mean that it will automatically go into any of our English Dictionaries.”

GIF image via Shutterstock


Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic