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Merriam-Webster Announces Its Word of the Year

2023 was about trying to determine what’s real and what’s not, according to dictionary company

spinner image A Merriam-Webster English dictionary with a red cover sits on a desk.

Merriam-Webster’s choice for Word of the Year is not a sexy pick — “authentic” — but it is an (apparently) earnest statement about the fact(!) that it’s become increasingly difficult to tell what’s real and what’s not.

The company’s announcement cites the rise of artificial intelligence tools in 2023, and, as a result, growing concerns about “its impact on deepfake videos, actors’ contracts, academic honesty, and a vast number of other topics” as “the line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ has become increasingly blurred.”

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“We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity,” editor at large Peter Sokolowski told The Associated Press. “Can we trust whether a student wrote this paper? Can we trust whether a politician made this statement? We don’t always trust what we see anymore.”

Many people find it hard to pin down the real meaning of the word itself, Sokolowski said: The number of searches on Merriam-Webster’s site for the definition of “authentic” were particularly high this year.

The dictionary defines it as:

  • “not false or imitation: real, actual,” as in “an authentic cockney accent”;
  • “true to one’s own personality, spirit or character”;
  • “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact”;
  • “made or done the same way as an original”; and
  • “conforming to an original so as to reproduce essential features.”

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

Other big words for 2023

The company’s data crunchers filter out evergreen words like “love” and “affect” vs. “effect” that are always high in lookups among the 500,000 words it defines online. This year, they also filtered out many five-letter words because Wordle and Quordle players now use the company’s site in search of them as they play the popular online games, Sokolowski said.

Other words that attracted unusual traffic on the dictionary’s site in 2023 included:

coronation: “the act or occasion of crowning.” King Charles III had one on May 6.

covenant: “a usually formal, solemn, and binding agreement.” Lookups swelled on March 27, after a deadly mass shooting at The Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee. This year also saw the release of Guy Ritchie’s The Covenant and Abraham Verghese’s acclaimed novel The Covenant of Water.

deadname: “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 around the country.

deepfake: “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 Elon 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.

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doppelgänger: a “double,” an “alter ego” or a “ghostly counterpart.” Recent interest in the word, which originally referred to spirit doubles in German folklore, may be related to the release of Naomi Klein’s latest book, Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World, released this year. She uses her own experience of often being confused with feminist author and conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf as a springboard into a broader narrative on the crazy times we’re all living in.

dystopian: “of, relating to, or being an imagined world or society in which people lead dehumanized, fearful lives”. Climate chaos brought on interest in the word, according to the Merriam-Webster announcement, as did books, movies and TV fare intended to entertain.

EGOT: “the accomplishment of winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony Award in one’s lifetime,” as actress Viola Davis, 58, did in February when she received a Grammy.

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

indict: “to charge with a crime by the finding or presentment of a jury (such as a grand jury) in due form of law” and “to charge with a fault or offense.” Former President Donald Trump has been indicted on felony charges in four criminal cases — in New York, Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C. — and is fighting a lawsuit that threatens his real estate empire.

kibbutz: “a communal farm or settlement in Israel.” The online dictionary saw a spike in lookups after Hamas militants attacked several kibbutzim near the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7.

rizz: “romantic appeal or charm”. Merriam-Webster added the slang word to its online dictionary in September, and it’s been among the top lookups since, Sokolowski said.

x: It’s “the 24th letter of the English alphabet” and so much more, according to Merriam-Webster, which also cited the letter’s unusual flexibility: “For example, it stands for ‘an unknown quantity,’ it’s a symbol for the act of multiplication, and it is used as a substitute for ‘by’ in measurements, as in ‘The room was 10′x15.′ ” Lookups for “X” on spiked 885 percent on July 23, the date that Twitter announced it was rebranding itself as X.

Contributing: Associated Press

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