Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.


The Oxford University Press 2023 "Word of the Year" is "rizz."

A derivative of "charisma" and popularized by pop culture figures like Kai Cenat and Tom Holland, rizz implies "style, charm or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner." Used as a verb (often in the phrase "rizz up") it means "to attract, seduce, or chat up (a person)," according to the venerable publisher, which combines public and lexicographer input to select its annual word-of-the-year finalists.

Hadn't heard the term? That might be a "beige flag," or "a character trait that indicated a partner or potential partner is boring or lacks originality," according to Oxford, which considered beige flag as word of the year, along with words like "Swiftie" (an "enthusiastic fan" of Taylor Swift).

Football star Travis Kelce is clearly a Swiftie, but his harmony with the singer seems anything but "parasocial" — another contender, defined by Oxford as "a relationship characterized by the one-sided, unreciprocated sense of intimacy felt by a viewer, fan, or follower for a well-known or prominent figure." Nor could one characterize Travis and Taylor's relationship with another word shortlisted by Oxford: "situationship," defined as a "romantic or sexual relationship that is not considered to be formal or established."

Rather, they're a couple, confirmed Swift in Time magazine, which on Wednesday named her "Person of the Year." That "coronation" (a contender for Merriam-Webster's word of the year, but meant as a bow to King Charles, not Queen Taylor, who told Time of her travails, "I've been given a tiara, then had it taken away") came after the cultural and commercial impact of her "Eras" tour.

The "Person of the Year" recognition reflects the incredible power of pop culture and social media's influencers. But for every trend — and term — there seems to be an anti-trend and antonym, so it's perhaps not surprising that Oxford and Collins, a third dictionary naming a word of the year, both listed "de-influencing," defined as "when one of these oracles uses their power 'to warn followers to avoid certain commercial products, lifestyle choices, etc.'"

Products including "ultra-processed" foods, which Collins, in its "Language Lovers" blog, calls "prepared using complex industrial methods." The ubiquity of those products has led to the use of "semaglutide," a Collins finalist better known as Ozempic.

This linguistic yin and yang is likely to intensify in coming years as people reckon and wrestle with the advent of artificial intelligence, or "AI," which Collins named its word of the year. (The Economist echoed that pick by selecting "ChatGPT.") AI, as Collins defines it, is "the modelling of human mental functions by computer programs." This, Collins continues, "rather captures the profound nature of challenge facing us. Can machines really become human-like? And how will that pan out for our species?"

For some, the answer will be "dystopian," another word on Webster's list, along with "deepfake," defined as "an image or recording that has been convincingly altered or manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something that was not actually done or said." (Stay tuned for more on the particularly perilous use of such fakes in the upcoming election year, which is likely to light up 2024's word-of-the-year lists).

The themes of uncertainty regarding relationships and even reality may explain Merriam-Webster's ultimate word of the year: "authentic."

It's a term "for something we're thinking about, writing about, aspiring to, and judging more than ever," Merriam-Webster said in a statement. And "authentic" is a word with multiple meanings, including "not false or imitation" and "true to one's own personality, spirit, or character." As an example of the word's currency, it uses this headline: "Three Ways to Tap Into Taylor Swift's Authenticity and Build an Eras-like Workplace."

Merriam-Webster bases its word-of-the-year criteria mostly on searches. "A high-volume lookup in most years, 'authentic' saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media," wrote Webster. In other words, its choice was a response to many of those terms listed by all three dictionaries.

Some may read into the surge in word searches that our era has so unmoored people from the core value of authenticity that they had to look it up.


But it's encouraging that even if "authentic" needed defining, its appeal is widespread. It suggests that if machines do indeed "become human-like," they'll never be as authentic, and awesome, as the real things.