It’s difficult to go on any social media site without quickly coming across a link to a list of “mind-blowing facts”, “reasons why…” or “mistakes you might be making”. This increasingly popular form of online content has become known as a ‘listicle’, which, as the perceptive among you might have guessed, is a cross between a list and an article, divided into numbered or bullet-pointed sections of text that are often accompanied by pictures or GIFs. Listicles can be based on pretty much any subject matter: a quick Google search provides results that range from the generic (“67 Awesome Halloween Costume Ideas”) to the very specific (“31 Kitchen Products For People Who Seriously Love Star Wars”), from distracting fluff (“30 Baby Animals That Will Make You Go ‘Aww’”) to genuinely useful tips (“4 Ways You Can Register To Vote In Less Than 5 Minutes”). And so, without further ado:
5 Mind-Blowing Facts You Need To Know About The Word ‘Listicle’
1) It’s a portmanteau word
English speakers love making new words by blending two pre-existing words, and ‘listicle’ is no exception. Many of the new words that were added to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary earlier this year are portmanteau words: you can read more about them here and here.
2) The concept predates the word
‘Listicle’ may be a new word, originating in the early Noughties, but pieces of writing structured as lists have been around for a long while, from lists of beauty tips in teen magazines to ‘Top Ten’ lists of songs or albums by music journalists. You might be surprised to learn that a 19th century example of something that looks a lot like a listicle was unearthed a couple of years ago, entitled “The 25 Stages From Courtship To Marriage” – you can read about it here (http://publicdomainreview.org/collections/the-25-stages-from-courtship-to-marriage/). However, list-style articles have undergone a dramatic surge in popularity with the 21st century rise of online-only media outlets such as BuzzFeed and the Huffington Post, and the recent coinage of the word ‘listicle’ seems to reflect the increased need for a precise way of referring to this distinctive form.
3) It’s not the only new word to originate from the word ‘article’
The word ‘charticle’, while less popular than ‘listicle’, has also come into use in recent years, and is a similar portmanteau word, this time blending chart and article. It refers to an article structured around charts or infographics.
4) Listicle titles are often prime examples of clickbait
Another common feature of the listicle is a title ending in something along the lines of “number 5 will shock you!” These titles are described as clickbait because they act as virtual bait, designed to make someone mindlessly scrolling through Facebook stop and click on the link to find out what could possibly be so shocking. (And yes, ‘clickbait’ is yet another portmanteau word!)
5) Not everyone loves listicles
Listicles have been criticised as a lowbrow and dumbed-down form by some journalists, who think that their simple list structure eradicates the need for good storytelling or a coherently-linked argument. The Canadian journalist Jeffrey Dvorkin went so far as to declare that clickbait and listicles will be “the death of journalism”. Controversial as they might be, though, listicles are undeniably popular. A counterargument to the criticisms of listicle haters like Dvorkin might be that modern life is increasingly fast-paced and full of multitasking, and so we don’t always have time to sit down with a newspaper and read a lengthy, well-researched article. A listicle can be the perfect way to fill a five-minute bus journey with some easily digestible infotainment. And besides, don’t we all need to just sit back, switch our brains off and scroll through 45 cats that are too fluffy to even exist every now and again?
Whichever side of the listicle debate you’re on, it looks like the word is here to stay. The neologism ‘listicle’ is becoming almost as widely-used as the form it denotes, cropping up more and more often in mainstream discourse (the Guardian, the Independent and the New York Times have all published articles discussing listicles in the last few years), and its inclusion in the next update of the online edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary is a testament to its newfound popularity among English speakers.
Anyway, I’d better wrap this up – I’ve got some baby animals to look at, and I need to find out whether number 17 is really so cute I’ll want to squish it.
‘Listicle’ is not yet in the online edition of the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary but is one to look out for in the next update.
Laura Shanahan is Dictionaries Assistant in OUP’s ELT Dictionaries department. Before joining OUP earlier this year, she studied French and Italian at university, and spent a year abroad teaching English in Italy. She has also worked at a translation agency, a bookshop and a library. She is an avid reader of listicles and books alike.
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