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Authentic: A Closer Look at the Word of the Year


Sometimes, when a dictionary announces its “Word of the Year,” it’s trying to put forward a word that was newly created to match a new cultural dynamic, or a word that describes something popular or what was significant to the news cycle.

Which is why I didn’t see this word coming.

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year for 2023 is authentic. In other words, they picked a word that reflected what all of us, right now, seem to most long for. It’s what we’re all thinking about, writing about, hoping for, and judging others by.

It was the right choice. Particularly in light of all things AI (artificial intelligence), political posturing, celebrity culture, leadership hypocrisy, deep fakes and, of course, social media.

As Merriam-Webster notes:

Authentic has a number of meanings including “not false or imitation,” a synonym of real and actual; and also “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” Authentic is often connected to identity, whether national or personal: words frequently modified by authentic include cuisine and dish, but also self and voice. Celebrities like singers Lainey Wilson, Sam Smith, and especially Taylor Swift all made headlines in 2023 with statements about seeking their “authentic voice” and “authentic self.”

Simply put, in our world, authenticity is what “brands, social media influencers, and celebrities aspire to be.” Which means, ironically, that authenticity can become a performance.

Other words stood out to the dictionary for 2023, such as:

rizz (romantic appeal or charm),

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),

coronation (due to the ceremony to crown Charles III),

… and dystopian (the depiction of a dark potential future).

But I think they got it right with authentic. Which, as a report by National Public Radio quipped, shows that it certainly wasn’t picked by AI. But what is most interesting is that authentic wasn’t picked by Merriam-Webster, either.

Their selection was based solely on how many people used their website to look up its definition. Authentic was the word that was looked up more than any other word.

Which tells us that it really is what people are looking for.

This article originally appeared here and is used by permission.