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  • Writer's pictureBarbara J. Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

What is important right now? Take note of the word-of-the-year.

a word cloud highlighting words have power

Have you heard of the word-of-the-year? Did you know there is more than one?

Really? What are they? Who decides what they are? What is their meaning?

One type of word-of-the-year looks back and one looks ahead. Let’s look at each type…

What is this year’s word-of-the-year?

It depends on who you ask. Words-of-the-year that highlight popular words of the previous year are selected by various organizations such as major dictionaries and language institutions from around the world.

The original word-of-the-year was started in Germany in 1971 by the Society for the German Language. In the United States, the American Dialect Society started selecting words of the year in 1990. Since then, many other organizations have joined in. Each word chosen has risen to popularity and frequent use during the preceding 12 months.

Words are nominated each year by editors and language experts via analysis of word usage to select ones that reflect the mood or focus of the previous year. The word candidates are then debated and voted on.

What are examples of words of the year?

Past words-of-the-year include Y2K in 1999, chad in 2000, app in 2010, hashtag in 2012, and fake news in 2017. Each one brings back memories of what was prominent at the time.

For example, the words-of-the-year in 2020 included Covid, quarantine, lockdown, and pandemic. Not surprising. Definitely what was uppermost in people’s minds.

What would you guess were selected for words-of-the-year in 2023?

In 2023, the words of the year selected to date include:

  • Rizz, selected by the Oxford English Dictionary. It is short for charisma and means one’s ability to attract others through style, charm, or attractiveness. This variation of charisma is derived from the middle portion of the word, similar to flu, short for influenza.

  • AI, the abbreviation for artificial intelligence, was selected by the editorial, marketing, and publicity staff and lexicographers of the Collins English Dictionary.

  • Authentic, meaning of undisputed origin or genuine, was selected by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, which determines their choice by an online poll.

The word-of-the-year tells us what is trending today. What people are talking about. What is important to society. Look at the examples from previous years. They illuminate what was happening in the world.

What about the word-of-the-year that looks ahead? That type is selected by individuals.

What will you choose for your word-of-the-year?

A proactive approach to choosing a word-of-the-year is to personally select a word before the start of a new year that will serve as a positive focus for the year ahead.

Many people use this one word as an alternative to New Year’s resolutions. The word becomes a motivator to live their values and achieve their purpose.

Various approaches can be taken to select a word. Most begin with reflection, followed by brainstorming, and then a selection process that ultimately chooses the one word to guide the year ahead.

What does each type of word-of-the-year tell us about ourselves? One provides insight into what gave our lives meaning over the past 12 months. The other provides insight into our dreams for the months ahead. Choose carefully.

“Words are the most powerful thing in the universe… Words are containers. They contain faith, or fear, and they produce after their kind.”

~ Charles Capps

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