Surprise! Artificial Intelligence (AI) dominated the range of important things, events, people and preoccupations we talked about in 2023.
An article about ChatGPT led Wikipedia’s most-viewed entries and Google search data also showed plenty of hunts for AI and related words like chatbot, prompt and generative AI.
Here are the words that caught the public’s imagination and earned spots on Word of the Year lists in 2023:
Artificial Intelligence (AI)
Global Language Monitor notes that whether it “bodes well or ill for the future of humankind,” Artificial Intelligence seems to be on the mind of every person on the planet. Other top choices were Swifties (“Enthusiastic, some would say rabid, phenomena describing the followers of pop and country singer-songwriter Taylor Alison Swift”); tunnels (symbolic of the Hamas-Israeli conflict); and climate change (including derecho, smoke, heat dome, rising sea levels).
Collins English Dictionary also chose AI, describing it as “the modelling of human mental functions by computer programs.” Other words in the running included de-influencing (“the use of social media to warn followers to avoid certain products”), nepo baby (“a person whose career is believed to have been advanced by having famous parents”) and greedflation (“the use of inflation as an excuse to raise prices”).
Merriam-Webster chose authentic after a “substantial increase” in people looking up the word in 2023, driven by the buzz about artificial intelligence, celebrity culture and social media. The word has a number of meanings (no wonder it sends people to the dictionary!): “not false or imitation” and “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”
Other words that stood out were deadname (“the name someone was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning”); deepfake (“an image or recording convincingly altered and manipulated to misrepresent someone as doing or saying something”); and EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards).
The American Dialect Society voted for enshittification, “a sadly apt term for how our online lives have become gradually degraded.” The term became popular in 2023 after author Cory Doctorow used it to describe how digital platforms can become worse and worse. The society says it is most interested in words that have reached widespread use over the year or reflect important events, people, places and preoccupations.
Cambridge Dictionary went with hallucinate, in the sense that “When an artificial intelligence hallucinates, it produces false information.” The choice recognizes that the new meaning for an established word “gets to the heart of why people are talking about AI. Generative AI is a powerful tool but one we’re all still learning how to interact with safely and effectively – this means being aware of both its potential strengths and its current weaknesses.” The dictionary also added new AI-related definitions, including large language model (or LLM), generative AI (or GenAI), and GPT.
Dictionary.com also chose hallucinate, representing their “confident projection that AI will prove to be one of the most consequential developments of our lifetime.” Other words in the running included rizz, wokeism (“promotion of liberal progressive ideology and policy as an expression of sensitivity to systemic injustices and prejudices”) and indicted (“to bring a formal accusation against (someone) as a means of bringing a case to trial after ascertaining that there is enough evidence”).
Oxford University Press chose this slang term for “style, charm, or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner.” It can also be used as a verb as in rizz up, or “attract, seduce or chat up a person.” Use of the word increased dramatically in 2023, with a peak in June 2023, when actor Tom Holland was asked in an interview about his rizz. Other words that stood out: prompt (“an instruction given to an artificial intelligence program”); Swiftie (“an enthusiastic fan of singer Taylor Swift”); and beige flag (“A character trait that indicates that a partner or potential partner is boring or lacks originality”).
Other words in the news:
Bundle of rights
Plain English Foundation collects the worst examples of “buzzwords, jargon, doublespeak and corporate spin.” Their aim is to improve the quality of public language and encourage a plainer style of talking. For 2023, this Australian foundation gave top honours to bundle of rights, used by Qantas airline to explain that they don’t sell flights they knew were cancelled. The People’s Choice award went to rapid unscheduled disassembly, or what most saw as an explosion of the SpaceX spacecraft.
Lake Superior State University in Michigan has the “lively tradition” of posting a yearly list of “misused and overused” words that should be banished. The public nominates words and votes on which ones make the list. For 2023, hack was a popular buzzword that tries to “impart an aura of innovation or sophistication.” However, its widespread adoption “has the potential to lessen its inherent significance.” Others in the running: impact (“Why use this word when we have a perfectly good word that makes more sense: affect?”); at the end of the day (“overused and meaningless”); rizz (“The ubiquity of this term prompts contemplation on whether it retains its relevance”); and iconic (“time for another attempt to point out its overuse and lack of meaning in most situations”).
Gaslighting and goblin mode made the 2022 list
Pandemic words still dominated 2021
COVID-19 dominated the Words of the Year in 2020
2018 was a more innocent time when there was no pandemic