Smombie: The unexpected Youth Word of the Year 2015

Article published on Jan. 18, 2016
Article published on Jan. 18, 2016

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

'Smombie', a portmanteau word, derived from ‘Smartphone’ and ‘Zombie’, is the winner of the ‘Youth Word of the Year’ 2015 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 youths themselves don't use themselves? 'Smombie', the Youth Word of the Year 2015, proves that that is indeed the case, claims 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 Youth Word of the Year, 2015. 

 The word ‘Smombie’, composed from ‘Smartphone’ and ‘Zombie’,  can be used to describe a person who is so engrossed in their smartphone, that they don't pay much attention to the world around them.

How is the Youth Word chosen ?

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, only thirty words remain 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 choose the winning word. The procedure 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, with 36% of the votes. The word satirized Angela Merkel’s tendency to take time to reach a decision and take action. Other terms, such as ‘rumoxidieren’ and ‘earthporn’ were also placed 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.

Is Smombie a Smoothie?

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

Smombies?: They have no hobbies!

Whilst 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.