Does AI Have Authentic Rizz? Words of the Year 2023

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Oxford Dictionaries’ 2023 word of the year is rizz.

Whew!—we’ve survived 2023, with all its ups and downs. But as we ring in the new year, it’s time to sum up the old one—usually done by means of lists of the best books, movies, songs, social trends, you name it. Not to be outdone, linguists have identified—based on the most frequently looked up and/or used words of the previous year—one word they feel captures the zeitgeist, or spirit of the times, of 2023. This word has been announced as the Word of the Year, or WOTY. Germany began choosing a Word of the Year (Wort des Jahres) in 1971, and in 1990 the American Dialect Society took up the mantle in the U.S. Other countries have followed suit during the 2000s—including Denmark, Norway, Russia, and Spain. 

Each dictionary chooses its own WOTY, providing multiple perspectives on the current cultural climate. Fortunately, we have finally moved beyond the pandemic-related WOTYs—such as covid, lockdown, vaccine, and quarantine—typical of the past few years. That in itself is something to celebrate! But just as that threat fades into our collective rearview mirror, a new one has emerged: artificial intelligence, which is increasingly altering our lives and therefore invading the language as well. Words relating to this phenomenon dominate this year’s WOTYs.

Merriam-Webster, America’s leading dictionary, has chosen authentic as its WOTY for 2023. Defined as “not false or imitation,” a synonym of ‘real’ and ‘actual’, and also “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character,” authentic saw a substantial increase [in lookups] in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media (merriam-webster.com). “Large language models like Chat GPT and image generators like Dall-E have left us uncertain about what’s genuine, from student essays to the pope’s fashion choices. When it comes to the news, online mis- and disinformation, along with [deepfakes and] armies of bots, have us operating under different sets of facts” (theguardian.com). “We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity,” said Merriam-Webster editor at large Peter Sokolowski in announcing the WOTY. In other words, authenticity, like the butterfly and the snowflake, is more highly valued the more it disappears.

Authentic is often connected to identity, whether national or personal. Celebrities like Taylor Swift all made headlines in 2023 with statements about seeking their “authentic voice” and “authentic self.” This quality, which might be thought of as the “personal touch,” has become a major requisite in marketing, business, and entertainment. “Authentic leadership” is a growing movement in business. “Authentic leaders are self-aware and genuine…. [who] show their real selves to their followers. …. Authentic leaders lead with their heart [sic], not just their minds. They are not afraid to show their emotions, their vulnerability, and to connect with their employees” (forbes.com). One Forbes headline read “Three Ways to Tap into Taylor Swift’s Authenticity and Build an Eras-Like Workplace.” More on her later! 

Have you noticed that packages ordered online now often include “personal” notes? For example, one of my Christmas orders contained this postcard: “From our … team to your family, we extend our warmest wishes for a season filled with love, joy, and inspiration. Thank you for being the heart of our story. Here’s to many more chapters together,” signed by the CEO. To me, this represents fake authenticity (a clear oxymoron). This word might be considered the opposite of M-W’s 2022 WOTY, gaslighting.

Collins Dictionary took the bull by the horns and chose AI—the acronym for Artificial Intelligence—as its 2023 WOTY. “Considered to be the next great technological revolution, AI—defined as the modelling of human mental functions by computer programs—has seen rapid development and has been much talked about in 2023,” the UK-based dictionary publisher said in its announcement. The rapid development of AI has caused both celebration and anxiety, and was one of the issues in the recent United Auto Workers UAW) and Hollywood writers’ strikes. The inaugural Global Summit on AI Safety was held in the United Kingdom in early November, hosted by UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, and featuring speakers including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris. Other contenders for Collins’ word of the year included “de-influencing,” when a social media influencer uses their popularity “to warn followers to avoid certain commercial products, lifestyle choices, etc.”; “nepo baby”—short for “nepotism baby”—which refers to a person “whose career is believed to have been advanced by having famous parents”; and “semaglutide,” the popular weight-loss drug marketed under the name Ozempic. 

In the same context, Dictionary.com, along with its UK counterpart Cambridge Dictionaries, chose hallucinate as its 2023 WOTY. They are not talking about the longstanding “waking dream,” “visions or imaginations” definition of this common word. Rather, as explained their announcement, they are focusing on the specific definition used in relation to generative AI: “to produce false information contrary to the intent of the user and present it as if true and factual…. In other words, it’s when chatbots and other AI tools confidently make stuff up…. [AI is] far from perfect, as it’s capable of producing false information—hallucinations—and presenting this information as fact.” Dictionary.com senior editor Nick Norlen wrote in a blog post that the site saw a 46% increase in lookups for hallucinate over the previous year, while its use in digital publications increased 85% year-over-year. The online reference also reported an average 62% increase in year-over-year lookups for other AI-related terminology, such as “chatbot,” “GPT” (General Purpose Technology) and “generative AI” (cnn.com). “Our choice of hallucinate as the 2023 Word of the Year represents our confident projection that AI will prove to be one of the most consequential developments of our lifetime,” Norlen and head lexicographer Grant Barrett wrote.

In a break from the AI focus, Oxford Dictionaries—which publishes both the Oxford English and American Dictionaries—chose rizz as its 2023 WOTY. Defined as “someone’s ability to attract another person through style, charm, or attractiveness,” this colloquial term has been summed up as “flirting techniques.” “This term is derived from the middle part of the word ‘charisma’, which is an unusual word formation pattern,” Oxford explained. “Other examples include ‘fridge’ (refrigerator) and ‘flu’ (influenza).” Rizz “is often associated with younger generations, especially teenagers, and emerged from gaming and internet culture… it has boomed on social media.” Lookups spiked in June, after actor Tom Holland was asked in an interview about his “rizz,” to which he answered, ‘I have no rizz whatsoever, I have limited rizz.’” Join the club! The word “rizz” can also be used as a verb, in phrases such as “rizz up,” meaning “to attract, seduce, or chat up (a person)” (languages.oup.com). NPR’s It’s Been a Minute Pop Culture Awards awarded Villain of the Year to George Santos with the quip, “He did all this—[lie on his resume, misuse campaign funds, etc.]—off the back of his own rizz.” (npr.org). They, too, chose rizz as Word of the Year. At Oxford, this choice was based on a popular vote among eight contenders, including prompt—an instruction given to an artificial intelligence program that determines the content it generates, situationship—an undefined or informal relationship, and Swiftie—an enthusiastic fan of singer Taylor Swift, who also earned attention as Time’s 2023 Person of the Year. As a confirmed Swiftie, I may have no rizz, but at least I’m authentic! 

These words remind us that language is always evolving—which keeps it interesting! Stay tuned—and check back to this column in the online Gazette—for the American Dialect Society’s 2023 WOTY choice, to be announced in early January by chair of the New Words Committee and Wall Street Journal columnist Ben Zimmer (americandialect.org). Wishing you a fizzy, rizzy New Year! 

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