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 Smombie: The unexpected Youth Word of the Year 2015

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Translation by:

Emily Spencer

'Smombie', a portmanteau word, derived from ‘Smartphone’ and ‘Zombie’, is the winner of the ‘2015 Youth Word of the Year’ competition and a source of controversy, following an alleged case of cheating. In France, ‘laïcité’ and ‘liberté d’expression’ took first place at the 'Festival du Mot'.

Is it possible that youth expressions exist that young people themselves don't use? 'Smombie', the 2015 Youth Word of the Year , proves that that is indeed the case, says JugendCampus-Reporter Bastian Thele from Bochum.

Through their initiative "Jugendwort des Jahres", which has been running since 2008, Langenscheidt-Verlag selected the portmanteau word as the 2015 Youth Word of the Year.

The word ‘Smombie’, composed from ‘Smartphone’ and ‘Zombie’,  can be used to describe an individual who is so distracted by their smartphone, that they are incapable of fully engaging with the world around them.

How is the Youth Word selected?

The rules are quite simple. Each year, young people are asked to submit online and discuss their favourite terms from the youth language lexicon. By mid-year, the selection has been narrowed down to thirty words, and everyone must vote for their favourite. The ten most popular words go through to the next round and are presented to the Jury mid- November. After much discussion, the Jury finally chooses the winning word. The method can't be faulted. Nonetheless, it appears that this year's winning word has been given a little boost.

Has there been cheating?

The truth is that ‘merkeln’ had been the clear favourite among young people, garnering 36% of the votes. The word satirises Angela Merkel’s tendency to take her time before reaching a decision and taking action. Other terms, such as ‘rumoxidieren’ and ‘earthporn’ were also near the top of the rankings.

What do the twenty-strong jury, consisting of youths, linguists, teachers and media representatives make of this? Using online voting, they chose ‘Smombie’ as the Youth Word of the year, despite the fact that it was ranked poorly, with only 5% of the votes ’ says Bastian Thele. 

A survey sent on the 13th of November 2015 in the news bulletin Logo, revealed that the meaning of the word is not at all understood by young people. On the 4th of January 2016, the Kieler Nachrichten conducted a survey in which participants were asked whether they use the word 'Smombie'. 92% of respondents replied that they did not.

'It may well be that the decision-maker at the publishing company, fearing calls from the Chancellor’s office, wanted to prevent the name of the Chancellor becoming negatively connoted. Or perhaps they wanted to choose a word that would be of educational value; highlighting the dangers of the digital age’ considers Bastian Thele. 

Smombies?: They have no hobbies!

While German-speaking youths may wonder why a word that isn’t used by young people was chosen as the 'Youth Word of the Year', 101,297 participants at the 'Festival du Mot' in France, coming from all over the world, selected 'laïcité' (secularism) and 'liberté d’expression' (freedom of speech) as the words of 2015.

Translated from Smombie: Outsider wird Jugendwort des Jahres 2015