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  • Jan Flynn

2023’s Word of the Year:

Not the word I’d choose

Image by Monika from Pixabay

You know we’re on the calendar’s last page when this list comes out

Certain rituals signal the close of another of Earth’s trips around the sun. Some have a clear purpose, like hanging up festive lights to cheer up the growing darkness.

Others, not so much. What’s with the compulsion to resurrect long-dead music icons to permeate the atmosphere in public buildings with songs we only hear at this time of year?

Songs that, by the end of the first week of December, we remember why we never wanted to hear again.

(Note to any foreign enemy intent on extracting from me vital state secrets— not that I am in possession of such nor am ever likely to be — let me save you time. Simply tie me to a chair and put Bing Crosby crooning “Little Drummer Boy” on replay. I won’t hold out until the fourth repeat before I spill my guts. Anything to make it stop)

Where was I? Oh, right: weird end-of-year rituals. Before we reach the day when millions of us sit in front of a dead tree in our living room while eating candy out of our socks, we can expect a lot of lists.

Beyond our personal gift lists, holiday card lists, and out-of-control To Do lists, we’re barraged with lists of the passing year’s Best : best movies, best books, best albums, best memes.

I don’t know what it is about arbitrary lists that we find so irresistible, but they’re reliable clickbait.

Mariam Webster of dictionary fame, climbs (in its creakily venerable way) onto the bandwagon with its annual list of “words that defined the year,” topped by its Word of the Year.

The #1 word for 2023 is authentic

That’s not a description of the word, that’s the word itself: “authentic.”

Underwhelmed? Me too.

Here’s how Mariam Webster determines which words get on its annual list, and which one gets the top spot: it mines its own data to see which words have been looked up the most.

It discounts the usual suspects (i.e. people trying to parse the difference between lie and lay, which designers of grammar tests delight in using as a mental irritant and also to prove they weren’t wasting their lives by majoring in English). It looks for words that have been searched out with significantly higher frequency in the previous 12 months than in prior years.

The #1 word is chosen because of multiple spikes in lookups in addition to having a lot of searches overall.

What’s interesting about that is what’s behind those spikes: I don’t know how scientific MW’s method is, but its website attributes those surges of interest in a word to “some political, cultural, or natural event.”

Let me get this straight: in a year that saw a bewildering revolution in AI, war erupt in the Middle East, a former U.S. president charged with 91 felony counts in four separate criminal cases, Earth’s hottest summer on record, and Tom Brady retiring for real — the word most people needed to look up was authentic?

Apparently we have Taylor Swift to thank

Among the zillions of headlines she made this year were ones touting her search for her “authentic voice” and “authentic self.” That right there is a cultural event.

Other celebs went on and on about their journeys toward authenticity too, of course. But other celebs are not Taylor Swift.

It seems there is no better metric of mega-stardom than the ability to send countless people with deficient vocabularies on an online quest for the definition of a common word.

Whatever this says about us users of the English language, what it does not say is that we’re getting smarter.

Here is Mariam Webster’s list of the other 13 words that were top contenders. Some, you will be quick to notice, don’t even count as words.

Comments in italics are entirely mine.

  1. Rizz — for those too busy to pronounce all of “charisma:” what Timothy Chalumet and Beyoncé have more of than you do

  2. Deepfake — something that is so not authentic

  3. Coronation — what happened to Prince Charles’s head that turned him into King Charles

  4. Dystopian — Dys ain’t what u hoped your future would look like

  5. EGOT — Applied to award shows; nearly as obnoxious as GOAT

  6. X — Wait . . . people had to look this up?

  7. Implode — Opposite of explode. If either happens to you, it won’t matter which one it was. Avoid small private submarines

  8. Doppelgänger — a word you hope proves you went to college

  9. Covenant — when used with “Eyes,” how Mike Johnson and his teenage son keep each other off of porn sites

  10. Indict — whatever you did to deserve this, just don’t pronounce the “c”

  11. Elemental — like, epically basic

  12. Kibbutz — at least somebody was paying attention to world events

  13. Deadname — a handy way to establish your binary bigotry while offending people who’ve never done anything to harm you

Words that should be on the list

In my never-humble opinion, of course. If confusion as to its meaning along with its political, cultural, or natural significance is what gets a word included, there are some biggies missing.

Exactly my point (image thanks to

I suggest a few obvious ommissions:

  1. Freedom — the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance: often confused with the power to coerce others to act, speak, or think only in a manner that agrees with you

  2. Liberty — see above. When followed by “Dogs,” advise extreme caution

  3. Climate — related to but not the same as weather. Undeniably and dangerously warming, even if you needed a sweater this morning

  4. Democracy — ‘rule by the people’, i.e., any system of government in which people vote their representatives into office. Currently listed globally as a threatened species

  5. Republic — a representative democracy governed by the rule of law, as per a constitution. Often confused with whatever extremists would like it to mean (see Mike Johnson, “we don’t live in a democracy”)

  6. Civil — not just for lawsuits! A manner of discourse and behavior best explained as the opposite of what you see on televised political debates

Those words spring to mind right off the bat although I’m sure there are others.

If I could spend one of my holiday wishes choosing the word of the year, I’d want it to be one that, were it truly understood, would promote what we all claim to want at this time of year.

Namely, peace on earth and goodwill to all.

With that in mind, I nominate as the Word That Should Have Been the Word of the Year:


In its most basic definition, to pay attention to sound.

Less obvious to many: to hear something with thoughtful attention; give consideration

The act of listening: often confused with waiting

Words have power. Let’s resolve to use them well in 2024. And if you’re going to spout an opinion, at least do it with rizz.

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