The Phenomenon of “Phubbing” Revealed As A Marketing Campaign For A Dictionary

Can a single word change the world?

Perhaps, when the word embodies the most insidious yet universal human behavior of the last several years–phubbing. The work means “ignoring the person in front of you in favor of your smart phone.” After surfacing on a site,, the word has, for the past year, been slowly spreading around the world, debated in the media as the behavior it describes becomes more pervasive.

And now, McCann Melbourne–the ad agency that brought you the viral blockbuster Dumb Ways to Die–has released a case study on the origins of the word and its purpose–to market a dictionary. The agency’s brief was from the Macquarie Dictionary of Australia, to publicize not just the dictionary but the importance of always-current dictionaries in capturing words that capture the human condition.

To start the process, McCann gathered a bunch of academics at the University of Sydney in 2012 to brainstorm phubbing into existence. The team included a lexicologist, a debating champ, some authors, and a cruciverbalist (i.e. crossword puzzle creator). Now, phubbing will appear in Macquarie Dictionary’s sixth edition, alongside other linguistic innovations such as fiscal cliff and mummy blog.

Have you, or will you, use phubbing in your everyday life? Let us know in the comments.JM