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New words in the frame

John Murray

No doubt at some point you’ve taken a photograph of somebody or something and found that something else in the photo has, deliberately or otherwise, made itself the centre of attention.

The ‘photobomb’ – the act of ruining a photograph by making an unplanned appearance in it – gained extra media coverage during  this summer’s Commonwealth Games when a selfie taken by two Australian hockey players was photobombed by none other than Queen Elizabeth II. This is likely to have played a significant role in Collins Dictionaries’ decision to name ‘photobomb’ as Word of the Year 2014.

It’s interesting to note that Collins’ main competitor, Oxford Dictionaries, named ‘selfie’ as its World of the Year in 2013, showing how the changing face of photography is affecting the way we communicate.

The term ‘photobomb’ was found to have first been used just six years ago, but the act of sabotaging a photograph is certainly not something that nobody had thought of doing before then. In fact, I remember a boozy trip to Dublin in 2005 when one of my friends seemed to base his whole weekend around it.

In the days before digital cameras, a ruined photograph was a waste of film and was something to get worked up about. Another memory I have from a bygone era is that of being desperate to get photos developed, so deliberately using up what was left of the film by taking a number of trite pictures of whatever was in front of you. For this very reason, I still have a photo of a suited BBC newsreader appearing on TV, captured mid-headline.

What language, and words like photobomb, reflects is culture and the regularity of events occurring. Only in the last few years has the act of wrecking photographs been commonplace enough to justify a name of its own, and the compound word ‘photobomb’ fits it nicely.

If you’re interested, ‘photobomb’ was given a run for its money in the Word of the Year stakes by the likes of ‘bakeoff’ (a culinary competition in the style of a certain popular television programme), ‘Bridezilla’ (a very particular and demanding female wedding planner), and normcore (fashion achieved by being ordinary and unpretentious).

John is every inch the wordsmith and loves a game of Scrabble above all else. With experience writing for newspapers, John’s time at university was spent studying Creative Writing – something which comes across in his love of the pun.

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