In early 2011, I was lucky enough to attend a screening in Melbourne of hot-topic documentary Catfish. This was followed by a Q&A with the film-makers, Henry Joost and the brothers Schulman.
If you’re not familiar with the film, it tracks the development of a relationship between Nev Schulman and a woman named ‘Megan’ on Facebook. Suffice it to say, ‘Megan’ is not all she seems to be, and much of the post-screening discussion revolved around the nature and fallout of said relationship. Nev, for his part, was open and honest about what had happened. When discussing the film afterwards with a friend, however, we were left with the impression that there was an element of opportunism to the film.
Given that MTV later adapted the documentary into a reality show format, it seemed that my suspicions were borne out. What nobody could have seen, though, was that ‘catfish’ would pass into popular vernacular as shorthand for a deceptive online relationship. Indeed, ‘catfish‘ – along with newly-minted terms like ‘crowdfunding,’ ‘hashtag‘ and ‘selfie’ – this month joins over 150 new words added to Merriam-Webster’s 2014 dictionary. If you think that many of these words have emerged from the internet, you’d be right; as Merriam-Webster editor Peter Sokolowski explained:
The makers of Catfish, for their part, were taken aback by the inclusion:
“Never in a thousand years could we have imagined what a phenomenon Catfish would become. Seeing this new definition in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is not only an honor for us, it is a reflection of how our experience in the film has now become a universal one, shared by people all over the world…”
It’s a rare opportunity to see a word go from internet slang to dictionary definition, and while I couldn’t have had honestly predicted that ‘catfish’ would catch on the way it has, it’s nice to know I was witness to it early on in the process!
Further reading: “Beware the online catfish” [The Independent]
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