Merriam-Webster’s 2023 Word of the Year Is ‘Authentic’

As technology’s ability to manipulate reality improves, we’re all searching for the truth

Recording on phone
Advances in technology are making altering or faking content increasingly easier. Pexels

Separating fact from fiction is getting harder. Manipulating images—and creating increasingly convincing deepfakes—is getting easier.

As what’s real becomes less clear, authenticity is “something we’re thinking about, writing about, aspiring to and judging more than ever”—which is why Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is “authentic,” the company announced this week.

“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,” editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski tells Leanne Italie of the Associated Press (AP). “We sometimes don’t believe our own eyes or our own ears. We are now recognizing that authenticity is a performance itself.”

“Authentic” is a “high-volume lookup” most years but saw a “substantial increase” this year, according to the announcement from Merriam-Webster. The dictionary has several definitions for the word, including “not false or imitation,” “true to one’s own personality, spirit or character” and “made or done the same way as an original,” among others.

“Although clearly a desirable quality, ‘authentic’ is hard to define and subject to debate—two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary,” writes Merriam-Webster.

This year saw many attempts at authenticity in popular culture. Celebrities like Taylor Swift say they’re trying to let their true selves shine. Even the summer blockbuster Barbie centers on “a world of pristine plastic colliding with flesh-and-blood reality,” as NPR’s Emily Olson notes.

Also on the list of those calling for authenticity is Elon Musk, the owner of X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. Musk has tried to cast X as social media’s most authentic platform. However, he also muddied the waters when he “got rid of the trademark blue check sign of authenticity—now only available at a price,” writes CNN’s Lianne Kolirin.

“We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity,” says Sokolowski to the AP. “What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more.”

Merriam-Webster officials choose their word of the year based on data, though they filter out evergreen searches and searches that are likely linked with games like Wordle, Sokolowski tells the AP.

Other words that saw spikes this year include “rizz,” “deepfake,” “coronation,” “dystopian,” “EGOT,” “X,” “implode,” “doppelgänger,” “covenant,” “indict,” “elemental,” “kibbutz” and “deadname,” per Merriam-Webster. Many of these terms are connected to specific news events. For example, on the day Musk announced that he was rebranding Twitter as X, searches for “X” jumped by 885 percent.

Some words on this list “feel connotatively connected to ‘authentic,’ or at least our perception of identity in a changing age,” writes NPR, pointing to “deepfake,” “deadname” and “rizz,” a slang term meaning “romantic appeal or charm,” per Merriam-Webster.

This year’s theme of searching for truth seems fitting following last year’s focus on manipulation. The 2022 word of the year was “gaslighting,” a term that originated from a 1938 play by Patrick Hamilton. In the play, a woman complains that the gas lights in her house are dimming while her husband tries to convince her that it’s all in her head.

The word of the year in 2021 was “vaccine,” while the winner for 2020 was “pandemic.”

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