Collins dictionary deems ‘geek’ word of the year

Once a slur reserved for eggheads and an insult aimed at lovers of computer programming, geek has been deemed the word of the year by the Collins online dictionary.

Less brazen than selfie – which topped the Oxford Dictionary's poll last month –  geek was chosen as a reminder of how an insult can be transformed into a badge of honour, according to Collins.

In September, the dictionary changed the main definition of geek from someone preoccupied with computing to "a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject'', adding geekery, geek chic and geekdom to the fold.

Another word that has been re-evaluated this year is marriage – after changes to marriage laws meant that same-sex marriages will be carried out in England and Wales from 29 March. Previously defined as a relationship between man and wife, the online dictionary will now state that marriage is "the state or relationship of living together in a legal partnership" or "the legal union or contract made by two people to live together".

Self-confessed word-geek Ian Brookes, consultant editor to Collins Dictionary and a lexicographer for the past 20 years, admitted that geek was not a word that had exploded into the language this year. "That would probably belong to twerk," he said, adding: "But we felt that that is not really a celebratory word."

Instead geek typified the type of word that could change their meaning and expand their longevity.

'Change in meaning'
"Just compare previous generations' use of words like cloud, tweet and tablet to ours," he said.

"This change in meaning represents a positive change in perceptions about specialist expertise, and is a result of the influence of technology on people's lives in 2013.

"The idea of future generations inheriting a more positive definition of the word 'geek' is something that Collins believes is worth celebrating."

Other fashionable lexemes have also muscled their way into the dictionary. Despite missing out on becoming the word of the year, the lexicographers found, much like the rest of the world, that it was impossible to avoid twerking this year and have defined it as "moving the hips up and down as part of an erotically suggestive dance".

Other high-profile stories have resulted in the inclusion of new words such as Plebgate, "a public scandal in which Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell is alleged to have insulted police on duty in Downing Street by calling them 'plebs'", fracker "a person or organisation involved in the extraction of shale gas through hydraulic fracturing" following protests after the governments decision to back fracking, and Cybernat, "a supporter of Scottish independence who is active on online forums", after Sir Chris Hoy received abuse in online forums.

Technology is well represented: the undeniably ugly Phablet is used to describe "a handheld computer that is larger than a smartphone but smaller than a tablet computer", such as the Samsung Galaxy Note; Harlem Shake makes the grade; while Bitcoin is described as "a digital currency exchanged by users of the internet". Thigh gap, Black Friday, payday lending and Olinguito – an animal of the raccoon family, living in the cloud forests of Colombia and Ecuador, apparently – all feature in the 12 new words to be included.

Since 2012 word fans around the world have submitted their favourites to Collins online, where lexicographers then choose "candidates" to add to the online dictionary, and put other words "under review" if more evidence of their use and importance need to be gathered. Others are flat-out rejected, but, suggesting perhaps that meaning is more fluid online than on paper, not all of the words included in the online dictionary will make it into the Collins print dictionary. – © Guardian News and Media 2013 

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