What is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2023?

What is Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year for 2023?
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The Word of the Year reflects the preoccupations of the time... And in an age of post-truth, ChatGPT, and deepfakes run amok, the line between “real” and “fake” has become increasingly blurred.

How fitting then that US publishing company Merriam-Webster have elected the word of the year for 2023 as “authentic.”

According to Merriam-Webster, “authentic” has a number of meanings including “not false or imitation,” a synonym of real and actual; and also “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

Although clearly a desirable quality, authentic is hard to define and subject to debate.

Lookups for the word are routinely heavy on the dictionary company's site but were boosted to new heights throughout the year, according to lexicologist and editor at large Peter Sokolowski.

“We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity,” he said ahead of today's announcement of this year's word. “What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more.”

Indeed, authentic saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media. After all, this was the year of artificial intelligence, but also a moment when ChatGPT-maker OpenAI suffered a leadership crisis.

Elsewhere, Elon Musk, at February's World Government Summit in Dubai, urged the heads of companies, politicians, ministers and other leaders to “speak authentically” on social media by running their own accounts.

Make of that what you will considering the rampant misinformation on the platform, as well as the increase in antisemitic content on X since the start of the Israel Hamas war. According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic content has increased by more than 919 per cent on X since the 7 October attack.

Authentic - AP

“Authentic” follows 2022’s choice of “gaslighting” and 2023 marks Merriam-Webster’s 20th anniversary choosing a top word.

Sokolowski and his colleagues have a bevy of runners-up for word of the year that also attracted unusual traffic.

They include “X” (lookups spiked in July after Musk's rebranding of Twitter), “EGOT” (there was a boost in February when Viola Davis achieved that rare quadruple-award status with a Grammy) and Elemental, the title of a new Pixar film that had lookups jumping in June.

Rounding out the company's top words of 2023 are:

RIZZ: Slang for “romantic appeal or charm" and seemingly short for charisma.

DEEPFAKE: The dictionary company's definition is “an image or recording that has been convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said.” Interest spiked after Musk’s lawyers in a Tesla lawsuit said he is often the subject of deepfake videos and again after the likeness of Ryan Reynolds appeared in a fake, AI-generated Tesla ad.

CORONATION: King Charles III had one on 6 May, sending lookups for the word soaring 15,681% over the year before.

DYSTOPIAN: Climate chaos brought on interest in the word. So did books, movies and TV fare intended to entertain.

IMPLODE: The 18 June implosion of the Titan submersible on a commercial expedition to explore the Titanic wreckage sent lookups soaring for this word, meaning “to burst inward.”

DOPPELGANGER: Merriam-Webster defines it as a “double,” an “alter ego” or a “ghostly counterpart.” It derives from German folklore. Interest in the word surrounded Naomi Klein's latest book, “Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World,” released this year.

COVENANT: Lookups for the word meaning “a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement” swelled on 27 March, after a deadly mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. The shooter was a former student killed by police after killing three students and three adults.

INDICT: Former President Donald Trump was indicted in four separate cases now moving through the legal system, and indict spiked by 9440% on 30 March, when a New York City grand jury charged the former president in the hush-money case. Indict is defined as “to charge with a crime by the finding or presentment of a jury (such as a grand jury) in due form of law.”

KIBBUTZ: There was a massive spike in lookups for “a communal farm or settlement in Israel” after the Hamas attacks on 7 October.

DEADNAME: Interest was high in what Merriam-Webster defines as “the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning.” Lookups followed an onslaught of legislation aimed at curtailing LGBTQ+ rights in the US.