December 18, 2017
Monday, August 4, 2014

More than a selfie

At the 2014 Oscar Awards: the most famous usie of all times, seen from behind.
At the 2014 Oscar Awards: the most famous usie of all times, seen from behind.
At the 2014 Oscar Awards: the most famous usie of all times, seen from behind.
By Pablo Toledo
For the Herald

What’s a group selfie? Usie (pronounced uss-ee)

NEW YORK — What do you call a group selfie? An usie, of course!

As in “us.” Pronounced uss-ee (1), rhymes with fussy.

“Usies are a growing trend (2) that I think have far more (3) social value than selfies,” said Michal Ann Strahilevitz, a professor of marketing at Golden Gate University in San Francisco who studies consumer behaviour. “It’s magical capturing moments we share with other people.”

In contrast to one-person selfies, usies are “more about the relationship, and less about you and your hair,” she said.

The word — sometimes spelled usie, sometimes ussie * — has been showing up in written material since at least April 2013, according to Ben Zimmer, executive producer of and language columnist for The Wall Street Journal.

A Business Insider story from January noted that the outstretched (4) arm of the photo-taker in usies is a “signature” of the image, because the shooter has to get the camera far enough away to get the group in the frame (5). The Times of India in March said Pope Francis’ group selfie with visitors at the Vatican last year “could possibly be the first chronicled celebrity usie.” And a report from June was headlined: “Selfies Are Dead, Usie is the Latest Trend!”

But the term is so new and relatively obscure (6) that it wasn’t used to describe the famous group selfie of Ellen DeGeneres and other celebrities in March during the Academy Awards.

“There are countless variations on the theme, including ‘twofie,’ ‘threefie,’ etcetera, if you want to specify the number of people photographed,” said Zimmer.

Beth J. Harpaz, Associated Press

Writing sounds (1)
There are two ways to show in writing how a given word is pronounced. The most technical and accurate is by using phonetic symbols – those “funny letters” you see in some dictionaries, which the IPA (International Phonetics Association) standardizes for every known language on the planet. The other is the one used here, where you replace ambiguous syllables with spellings that you would only pronounce one way and “reconstruct” the word. The stressed syllable is sometimes spelled in capital letters, e.g. USS-ee.

Trend vs. tendency (2)
Spanish speakers sometimes mix up these two words, but their meanings are quite different. A tendency is a predisposition to act in a particular way (“Argentines have a tendency to prefer beef over fish”), whereas a trend is a general direction in a certain sphere or context. Therefore, we can never use “tendency” to talk about such things as fashion trends, market trends or trends of thought.

Intensifiers for comparatives (3)
This page has discussed intensifiers in the past – they are the words like “very” or “a little” which we use to describe how much of a certain quality we are talking about. “Far” is used here as an intensifier for the comparative combo “more than”, something not all intensifiers can do. Which other comparatives can modify a comparative form? They are: much, a lot, slightly, a bit and a little.

Outstretched (4)
“Outstretched” arms are stretched (made longer, the opposite of folded) or spread out as far as they can go.

In the frame (5)
When something is in the frame of a photograph, film or video, it appears in the image that is shown there. By extension, someone or something is “in the frame” (or “ourt of the frame”) of a situation when they are taking active part in it – for instance, “After Suárez was disqualified from the World Cup, the Uruguayan team was out of the frame of the competition”.

Obscure (6)
Here’s another false friend like “tendency”. “Obscure” sounds like our Spanish “obcuro”, but they are not used in the same contexts! In English “obscure” describes something that is not well known or is difficult to understand, whereas “dark” is used to refer to the absence of light.

* How do you say that?

Like in many languages, the relationship between spelling and pronunciation in English is very indirect, to the extent that you cannot be certain of how a new word is pronounced just by looking at the spelling. Spanish and German, for instance, are quite straightforward, but why is it that we can never be sure?

Many factors come together for this perfect storm. For starters, English is the result of many languages and dialects coming together, and writing came into the language from each of those traditions. In Modern English we can see different “geological layers” of spelling-pronunciation coincide, and this is a source of variation. On top of that, like any other language, English saw some major transformations of its own throughout its history, like the Great Vowel Shift of the 14-16th centuries, but some of those changes were never reflected in the spellings – whereas others were.

This is the reason why becoming familiar with the IPA symbols used to describe English words in phonetic script is a good step for learners – they are simpler than they look, make your life a whole lot easier, and studying them is an excellent way of raising your awareness of how many sounds the language has, how they are different and when they are used.


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