Our language experts explore word(s) of the year chosen by the top dictionaries and share some advice on how you can use them.
It’s that time once again, where we share the faves that got us through the last 11ish months; pour scorn on others’ basic/pretentious choices (delete as applicable); and unwittingly provide free advertising for a big brand.
No, it’s not Spotify Wrapped – it’s the word(s) of the year, as picked by rival dictionaries. So let’s see what these argot accumulators and authorities plumbed for. And what, if anything, they might mean for you.
Our opening entry kicks off the debate at the heart of this whole exercise: what criteria do you use to choose? For Merriam-Webster, it’s admirably simple – they’ve outsourced that decision to their users.
So, was authenticity the word on everyone’s lips? Maybe not, but it was apparently the word on everyone’s tips (of their fingers). According to MW, this was the most searched term on their website.
In retrospect, that makes sense. In a world flooded with misinformation, disinformation, and even just lots and lots of actual information, who do you know who to trust? How do you tell who is authentic?
And think of all the carefully curated celebrities, especially on social media platforms, who seem so relatable that they are every bit a part of our lives as our friends and family.
At times, it seems like there’s an arms race between them to see who can be the most (tautology alert) genuinely authentic. So it also scans that people might be confused about what the word ‘authentic’ actually means.
This seems like a suitably authentic pick for word of the year.
Oxford University: Rizz
Where do new words come from? One answer is that they come from communities looking to coin new expressions that help to distinguish them from wider society, as a handy signifier for who is and isn’t part of their immediate circle.
Or, to put it another way: they come from TikTok.
Hence, Rizz, which is basically just slang for ‘charisma.’ OK, it’s a little more nuanced than that. It’s a specific type of charisma: sexy charisma! And you can use it as a verb now, too. Relief for anyone who has ever wanted to say they were going to “charisma someone up”.
Look, it’s easy to be snide about this kind of thing. Especially when it’s getting the official stamp of approval from Oxford University. This super prestigious intellectual institution often feels like it’s giving off enough ‘How do you do, fellow kids?’ energy to singlehandedly end the climate crisis.
But Oxford University takes chronicling how language changes seriously, which is why their pick always comes from a shortlist of very new words, new words which often by their very nature seem weird and unserious.
Maybe rizz will stay the course. Maybe, like ‘flu,’ it will even eclipse and effectively replace the word it was originally derived from. (‘Influenza’ in case you were wondering.)
Or, maybe, like last year’s winner, ‘Goblin mode,’ it will vanish back into the mists from whence it came. Only time will tell!
Cambridge University: Hallucinate
Where else do new words come from? Here’s another answer: they’re birthed from advances in technology. After all, most of the everyday stuff around us has already been classified and filed away, linguistically speaking. If it didn’t exist before though, then it needs to be named.
One thing you might have noticed is that any list of new words creates a snapshot of a place in time. ‘Hallucinate’ does that in two ways.
First it speaks to the ubiquity of Artificial Intelligence (which for Collinswas the word of the year). ‘Hallucinate,’ in this context, means the tendency of AI platforms to spit out untruths in response to human prompts. It’s telling that this is a common enough phenomenon that it needs its own term, albeit one borrowed from elsewhere.
Second, it’s probably not a coincidence that it also speaks to our general sense of confusion and anxiety. Hallucinations bring to mind a digital fever dream, a glitch in the matrix that we can’t escape even when we’re fully aware we’re in it.
Which might not be as much fun as rizz. But it probably does make it a better candidate for word of year.
The shameless business pitch
We’ll be authentic: we want your business. And we want to make you more authentic too. Because we define and align brilliant brands – making you more authentic in everything you do. We’d argue that’s always important, but it takes on a new sense of urgency when ‘authenticity’ is something that loads of people (read: potential customers) are interested in right now.
And let’s talk hallucinations too. AI isn’t something you can ignore. The world is going to be divided between those companies that take advantage of it – and those that get left behind. Given how quickly it’s evolving though, you need an expert on-hand to guide you. That’s us. Let’s see what we can do about getting you better results (and fewer hallucinations).
…we probably can’t help you have more rizz though. Sorry.