Three “words of the year” for 2023

With a new year now just around the corner, this is the time in December when analyses and “round- ups” for the preceding 12 months fill our news feed.

And it’s no different in the worlds of language and writing, where reporters count the dominance of certain words in the public’s online dictionary searches. Three that I read about since December began are (i) the American Merriam-Webster Dictionary (often used by newcomer ESL students), (ii) the Oxford English Dictionary (OED to all English majors, past, present and future), and (iii) the Cambridge Dictionary.

Recently Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced that their “word of the year” is “authentic.” Most years this term has a “high-volume lookup.” But searches for “authentic” “substantially increased in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity and social media.” Company writers say that “authenticity” is a “desirable quality,” but also “hard to define and subject to debate,” so readers and writers regularly search for its formal definition.

Some inauthentic words or phrases used in workplace emails, as aired on Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC)’s “Make It” program, include these:

–“Not sure if you saw my last email”

–“Per our conversation”

–“I hope this message finds you well”

–A regular closing salutation, like “warmly,” “best,” or “sincerely.”

Merriam-Webster adds that “ ‘authenticity’ can be a double-edged sword. Trying too hard to be natural or relatable often seems fake.”


In the offices of the Oxford English Dictionary we find an equally, if not more, “viral” word for 2023: “rizz,,” from usage examined of more than 22 billion English words.

“Rizz,” lexicographers say, is a short form of “charisma,” which refers to “someone’s ability to attract another person through style, charm or attractiveness.” “Rizz” is frequently used to refer to “the ability to attract a romantic . . . partner,” and can be used as a verb (“to rizz up” someone means to “seduce” or, as the Brits say, to“chat them up”).

The word “rizz” arose from internet culture, such as YouTube and social media, and particularly caught on when British actor Tom Holland referred self-deprecatingly to having “no rizz whatsoever.” Lexicologists estimated a “15-fold increase” in searches over the past year and see no sign of abating.

Caspar Grathwohl, president of Oxford Languages, says that one reason “rizz” is moving into mainstream use is that “it’s just fun to say. . . . When it comes off your tongue, there’s a little bit of joy that comes with it.”


The offices of the Cambridge Dictionary reported that “hallucinate” has been its word of 2023.

Tapping into large language models (LLMs) as tools to harness the power of AI, writers have found that LLMs can draft “plausible prose,” but it contains made-up facts, thereby “hallucinat[ing] in a confident and sometimes believable manner.”

AI can, therefore, hallucinate “false information.”

Cambridge lexicographers note that the verb “hallucinate” denotes “to seem to see, hear, feel, or smell something that does not exist, usually because of a health condition or because you have taken a drug.”

To add to that definition, they write: “When an artificial intelligence hallucinates (i.e. a computer system that has some of the qualities that the human brain has, such as the ability to produce language in a way that seems human), it produces false information” (my emphasis).

What worries readers and writers is not only that AI hallucinations sometimes appear foolish and lack sense. But the hallucinations can also appear “entirely plausible—even while being factually inaccurate or ultimately illogical.”

AI hallucinations have resulted in the citing of fictitious cases in court (in the US) and when Google was producing its promotional video for Bard, the AI tool erred about the “James Webb Space Telescope.”

“Hallucinations” therefore remind readers and writers, says Wedalyun Nichols, Cambridge Dictionary’s Publishing Manager, that we still need “to bring [our] critical thinking skills to the use of these tools. AIs are fantastic at churning through huge amounts of data to extract specific information and consolidate it. But the more original you ask them to be, the likelier they are to go astray.

At their best, LLMS can only be as reliable as their training data. Human expertise is arguably more important—and sought after—than ever, to create the authoritative and up-to-date information that LLMs can be trained on.” As rumours, propaganda or “fake news,” false information has been with us for years.

University of Cambridge’s AI ethicist, Dr. Henry Shevlin, writes that “as this decade progresses,  . . . our  psychological vocabulary will be further extended to encompass the strange abilities of the new intelligences we’re creating.”

It’s the AI (not the user) that is hallucinating, and we tend to anthropomorphize technology as having human attributes, including the lapse into hallucinations.

Engineers and scholars across the world are working to limit AI hallucinations by grounding, “ cross-checking the outputs of LLM with “reliable sources and web searchers. Visiting “” can be an eye-opener.


Generations ago, theorist Fredric Jameson referred to “the prison-house of language,” whereby we are always already hindered in our efforts to achieve self-expression and meaning, by the limitations of language. AI intensifies Jameson’s argument!


With another New Year just around the corner, these  are three, international degree influence “top words” for the preceding year. These three dictionaries weigh in on the influence of each term on our culture and community.

Which, if any, of these three words strikes you as paramount for 2023: “authentic,” “rizz” or “hallucination?” And why?

Please write in; I’d be delighted to discuss further with you!



If lexicography appeals to you (and you haven’t yet found the following title), please read Pippa Williams’ moving novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words. Williams explores in Britain of the 1910s, the significance of under-represented words (often describing and used by women) in shaping the country’s culture. The book has been the feature of many book clubs, nation-wide. But if you’ve missed it, I highly recommend you borrow or buy a copy!