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'Selfie' Beats Out 'Twerk' as Oxford's Word of the Year

Forget the Snowden leaks, the birth of Prince George, and the Syria chemical weapons deal -- 2013 shall be remembered as the year of the first Papal selfie. Following in the pioneering footsteps of Anthony Weiner, Bill Clinton, and even Michelle Obama, Pope Francis went this year where no pope has gone before: in front of an iPhone held aloft by a smiling teenager.

So it's probably not surprising that selfie is the 2013 Oxford Dictionaries word of the year. Usage of the term increased by 17,000 percent since last year, according to Oxford Dictionaries editors, driven by both social and mainstream media use. Selfie beat out bitcoin, binge-watch, and even twerk for the distinction.

Selfie was added to OxfordDictionaries.com in August and was defined as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website." But afficionados of the Oxford English Dictionary and purists of the English language need not panic: The word hasn't yet been added to the OED (though it is being considered).

Oxford Dictionaries editors traced the first known use of the word selfie  to an Australian online forum in 2002. It started appearing on Flickr in 2004 but didn't really hit the mainstream until 2012 when celebrities like Rihanna and Justin Bieber turned selfie into a household term. It wasn't much later that Fox News host Geraldo Rivera nearly ruined the medium with this semi-nude gem from July:

"70 is the new 50," Rivera was kind enough to inform his Twitter followers.

But, hey, selfies: They're so hot right now. 

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Dubai, of All Places, Is Becoming a Space Tourism Hub

The United Arab Emirates is a country known for its outrageous tourist attractions, each more ambitious than the last, from massive indoor ski slopes to archipelagoes of entirely man-made islands. Given this history, it might not seem so remarkable that space tourism pioneers are turning to the country for the tourists of the future: according to recent reports in Arabian Business and Arabian Travel News, tickets for what is being called the first commercial space flight, slated to take off at the end of 2014, have gone on sale in Dubai. It marks the first time the company behind the flight has opened ticket sales up to Middle Eastern consumers.

According to Arabian Business, the company, Space Expedition Corp. (SXC), is close to finishing its first reusable spaceship at a desert location outside of Los Angeles. When commercial flights begin, the spaceship will make four trips into space each day, breaking the sound barrier within a minute and entering space within four. SXC's founder and CEO, Michiel Mol, expects that the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will approve the spaceship for commercial use by the end of 2014.

The company undoubtedly looked to Dubai consumers because of the city and the broader region's past space exploration-themed tourism projects (and, it probably goes without saying, the wealth that makes it possible). According to U.S.-based Mobilona Space Hotels, the company has received proposals from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Doha for each city's own space-themed hotel.  The hotel, which was first proposed by developers seeking permission to plan in Barcelona, would feature a "zero-gravity spa" and a mock space-training program in which guests would experience a "form of weightlessness" in a vertical wind tunnel. While Barcelona officials scoffed at the idea, Emiratis and Qataris were apparently more receptive. There has also been some chatter about plans to build a $3.3-billion Space City in Qatar with a number of space-related tourist attractions.

As interest in space exploration and space tourism has exploded in the UAE and the broader Gulf region, the recent news of SXC's marketing in Dubai  has positioned the country to become what may one day be called a hub of space tourism. Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic, the "space tourism arm" of his Virgin Group company and one of the most well-known commercial space flight companies, is partly owned by the Abu Dhabi government-controlled Aabar Investments, and part of the deal in which Aabar acquired the 32 percent-stake also included an agreement to build Virgin Galactic spaceport facilities in Abu Dhabi. When Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic company launched in 2003 with promises to send customers into space for the first commercial flights, Michiel Mol, who would go on to be the CEO of SXC, was one of the first to buy a $200,000 ticket. But as the years went by, Mol got restless and became CEO of his own start-up with similar aims. "We are David versus Goliath," Mol has said of the competition between SXC and Branson's Virgin Galactic.

And now, SXC, the Dutch start-up that's quickly becoming the dark horse in the race to capitalize on tourism's next frontier, has moved into what should be Virgin Galactic's home territory: the Emirates. Still, though, Virgin Galactic has quite a lead on SXC, with more than 550 customers compared to SXC's 250 and a fully operational spaceport in New Mexico, compared to the two SXC spaceports that are expected to open in 2017.

Both SXC and Virgin Galactic have set 2014 as the target year for taking tourists to space, but even since June, that target has been pushed back from early 2014 to late 2014. But if the companies ever make it to take-off, the pay-off looks promising: in 2012, a space and defense industry consulting company speculated the potential value of the commercial space industry would be $1.6 billion by 2020. If space tourism seemed far-out before, the practical trappings of profit calculations and, now, competition between companies that are no longer the only player in the business, represent an entirely new level of absurd. Welcome to the future -- or, maybe, just another outrageous and gimmicky tourist initiative on the Arabian Peninsula.

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