Posted by & filed under Fun, Social Media, Web.

catfishIn 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:

“So many of these new words show the impact of online connectivity to our lives and livelihoods…tweep, selfie, and hashtag refer to the ways we communicate and share as individuals.”

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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