The Sideshow

‘GIF’ named word of the year by Oxford American Dictionary

A popular animated GIF found on various social media sites

It's been delighting people around the world for 25 years but now formally holds a honored place in the cultural lexicon: "GIF" has been chosen as word of the year by the Oxford American Dictionary.

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

"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."

GIF is, in fact, an abbreviation of three separate words: Graphics Interchange Format. It was first released by CompuServe in 1987 but has experienced a dramatic cultural resurgence in recent years, most commonly used to make humorous commentary on topics ranging from sports to the 2012 presidential election.

The runner-up for the word of the year was also an abbreviation, "YOLO," which stands for "You only live once."

"Superstorm" was another runner-up for word of the year, after the major storm that affected the Eastern U.S. during the first week of November.

The British Oxford Dictionaries went a different route, choosing "omnishambles," as their word of the year, which is defined as "a situation that has been comprehensively mismanaged, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations."

Needless to say, having all three words shows how neologisms are having a growing influence in the cultural landscape.

Still, some older words have found new linguistic relevance. "Pleb," taken from the Roman word "plebs," has found a modern context in its derogatory usage to describe "a member of the ordinary people or working classes."

Interestingly, the word-of the-year distinction does not guarantee that the chosen words will actually be included in future editions of the Oxford English Dictionary.