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Merriam-Webster’s 2023 word of the year is the real deal

As the all-important question of truth and facts continues to dominate current affairs, it may come as no surprise to learn that Merriam-Webster’s word of the year is “authentic.”

The online dictionary says there has been a high volume of searches for the word’s definition for several years, but 2023 saw a “substantial increase,” thanks to “stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media.”

The reason so many look it up is because “authentic” has several meanings, according to the announcement on the dictionary’s website, including “not false or imitation” and “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.”

A synonym of real and actual, authentic is “clearly a desirable quality,” according to Merriam-Webster, and is often linked with expressions of identity, such as cuisine.

The dictionary said it has also been a term favored by celebrities like singers Lainey Wilson, Sam Smith and Taylor Swift, who have all made headlines this year with statements about seeking their “authentic voice” and “authentic self.”

Another fan is Elon Musk, who has previously said that people should be more “authentic” on social media. However, that became more of an issue earlier this year when Musk, as the new boss of Twitter, now X, got rid of the trademark blue check sign of authenticity – now only available at a price.

The rise of artificial intelligence has blurred the lines between what is real and what is not, leaving celebrities, brands and social media influencers – among others – keen to prove their authenticity.

One of the other words to stand out in searches this year, according to the dictionary, was the closely related “deepfake.”

This is defined by Merriam-Webster as “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.”

There was a particular spike in searches for the term in April and early May, the dictionary said, when Musk’s lawyers argued that he shouldn’t have to give legal testimony about public statements he made as some of these may have been deepfakes. The argument was rejected. One of the most notable news stories of the year about deepfake images was of those appearing to show former President Donald Trump being detained by police in a dramatic fashion back in March.

In 2022, Merriam-Webster chose “gaslighting” as its word of the year, saying it had become a ubiquitous term in the “age of misinformation.”

Other words that led much traffic to the online dictionary in 2023 included coronation, dystopian, indict and doppelgänger.

Meanwhile “rizz” went straight to the “top of lookups” in September, when the example of internet-driven slang was added to the dictionary.

For the uninitiated, Merriam-Webster explained: “As a noun, rizz means ‘romantic appeal or charm’ (as in ‘a bro who has rizz’); as a verb (typically used with up, as in ‘rizz up that cutie’) it means ‘to charm or seduce.’”

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