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Are You Phubbing Me?

Have you ever been sitting with a friend or family member while they constantly check their phone, send texts, tweet, or post Facebook status updates? Of course you have.

You've been "phubbed." Your friend or family member is "phubbing" you.

At least that's what Macquarie Dictionary of Australia (official motto: "Yes, we have dictionaries in Australia.") and the McCann global marketing agency wants you to call it. Macquarie and McCann are working together to spread the word around the globe through a year-long guerrilla marketing campaign.

I phub, I will phub, I have phubbed.

(The more I look at the word, the more I keep pronouncing it puh-hub.)

The Macquarie Dictionary wants to make people aware of how important language usage is, and for us to understand what it takes to create a new word. So they created the word "phubbing" with the help of lexicographers, poets, and authors during a consortium, because if anyone can create a catchy new word, it's a bunch of word nerds trying to reach consensus on a committee.

Macquarie then asked McCann to helped them push "phubbing" out around the world. McCann built the StopPhubbing.com website, created a Facebook page, and launched a PR campaign to reach out to reporters about the Stop Phubbing campaign whenever anyone wrote a news article about mobile phone etiquette.

There are a lot of articles about mobile phone etiquette, since people are typically rude about using their phone when they're with family. Or I think that's what my wife told me the last time we were out to dinner. I think she even told me to put down my "phubbing phone."

See, it's catching on already.

McCann has had a lot of success, placing stories all around the United States, Latin America, Great Britain, and Australia.

They even set up a voting system, asking if people were for or against phubbing. As of the latest count, 81% of respondents were against phubbing. The remaining 19% haven't yet looked up from their phones to see that their friends left an hour ago.

But according to an article in AdAge magazine (official motto: "No, not adage, Ad. Age. Two words!"), while everyone knew McCann was behind the campaign, no one knew Macquarie Dictionary was the one pulling all the strings.

The AdAge article said Macquarie wanted people to understand "the importance of words to explain social phenomena — and the importance of having an updated dictionary that captures those words."

This falls into the problem many people have with dictionaries. Are they "proscriptive" or "descriptive?" Do they tell you how a word should be used, or should they inform you how other people use a word? Are they the arbiter of what is correct, or are they a "mirror to society?" In this case, Macquarie wants to be proscriptive, and to get people to use this new word (and then buy the dictionary that has it).

Of course, many people wonder why they need a print dictionary in the first place. They're big, heavy, and not much use beyond looking up words or throwing at zombies. Even then you have to choose between a heavier, deadlier dictionary that has all the words you need, compared to a lighter dictionary that's easier to throw, but doesn't have the impact of the larger one.

Also, it doesn't contain words like "witzelsucht," which means "feeble attempt at humor."

As in, "this week's column is one giant witzelsucht."

It looks like the print dictionary is going the way of the dodo. The Oxford English Dictionary said in 2010 that they will no longer produce a print version, while the Macmillan Dictionary stopped printing last year. (The Andwife companion dictionary ceased publication in 2003.)

The benefits of an online-only dictionary are numerous: they can be updated more frequently, errors can be fixed as soon as they're spotted, and they're more likely to be unabridged, which means your kids can look up dirty words more easily.

Sure they could just use the regular Internet to learn those words (plus a whole lot more interesting things), but having a dictionary gives the words a certain academic panache that you just don't get with something as pedestrian and unreliable as UrbanDictionary.com.

But despite McCann's best efforts, "phubbing" doesn't seem to be taking off. Until this week, I wasn't even aware that "phubbing" was a word. Or that Macquarie had a dictionary.

Or what witzelsucht meant. Until now, I just thought it was the pet name Mrs. Steinbacher, my high school German teacher, had given me.



The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook. My latest book, The Owned Media Doctrine is now available on Amazon.com

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