When making a time capsule, most people put in photos, news clippings and mementos that capture the zeitgeist of a certain point in time. However, one thing that’s often forgotten are words – buzzwords, that is.
And that’s a terrible oversight, as buzzwords often speak to a particular cultural moment when attitudes and opinions shift, steering the course of human affairs (or at least, your next conversation) in a new direction.
The following list features some of 2023’s newest words, some propelled into the American lexicon due to concert tours and box-office blockbusters. It also features some already-existing words that have been printed in dictionaries for years – only this year, their meanings are a bit different. Read on to take a stroll through the linguistic landscape of 2023.
Merriam-Webster recently selected “authentic” as its 2023 word of the year. While it’s not by any means a new term, it took on a new meaning this year with the rise of AI-generated content. Now that we have to question whether the posts we’re seeing are real (shoutout to my sister who saw an AI-generated image of Andy Cohen and John Mayer holding hands and told everyone that they were dating), people are craving authenticity more than ever before.
2. Copycat layoffs
Unless you’ve been living under a rock this year, you might have noticed that lots of companies – including Google, TikTok and Spotify – are laying off employees. The term “copycat layoffs” represents some people’s suspicions that many companies are only choosing to cut employees after seeing their rivals do the same. While it’s true that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, let’s agree to leave this trend in 2023.
3. Nepo Baby
While nepotism babies – people born into famous or influential families who subsequently receive greater access to opportunities because of familial connections – have been around forever, public fascination with this group skyrocketed this year. From Hailey Bieber sporting a “Nepo Baby” t-shirt to Gwyneth Paltrow calling the term an “ugly moniker,” we’ve seen both acceptance and denial of privilege, which has sparked a nationwide conversation about inequality in Hollywood and beyond.
A deepfake is a photo or video of a person that has been digitally altered using AI technology, making it appear that the person is doing or saying something. In other words, a deepfake is a scam. In the past year, a number of celebrities like Tom Hanks and Mr. Beast have fallen victim to deepfakes that depict them promoting different products and services. Deepfakes have also been used to harm women by creating realistic pornographic content, an offense that remains unregulated in many states.
What started as a Gen Z slang word has evolved into something much more universal, as “rizz” was recently named Oxford University Press’ word of the year. Derived from the word “charisma,” it refers to someone’s ability to win attention (often romantic) from others. Basically, “You’ve got rizz” is Gen Z’s equivalent of “You’ve got game.” The publisher wrote, “It speaks to how younger generations create spaces – online or in person – where they own and define the language they use.”
6. Quiet Hiring
This is a hush-hush strategy some companies are using to fill new roles without increasing headcount, likely to combat inflation. So instead of hiring someone new, they tap into internal talent by training existing employees in new skills or moving employees into different roles. This is a controversial practice, as it’s generally seen as a way to skirt around paying employees.
We have Ryan Gosling to thank for this one. The actor initially made up the word while doing press for “Barbie,” then later on explained that the word represents a mindset of positive, healthy masculinity. “I’ve come to understand it as the strength and vitality required to sustain a period of ‘Kenning,’” he said at a Variety event. But what is “Kenning”? According to Gosling, it means “to give more than is necessary or required to reflect so that others might shine.”
8. Therapy Speak
This refers to the use of mental health and therapy language in day-to-day conversation (think “toxic,” “trauma,” “gaslighting,” etc.). While these words can be used in a healthy way, they can also be weaponized. The term “therapy speak” became a hot topic earlier this year when surfer Sarah Brady shared screenshots of an alleged text argument between herself and ex boyfriend Jonah Hill, in which he appeared to use words like “boundaries” and “triggering.” Experts say romantic partners use “therapy speak” to manipulate or exert control.
Because 2023 was the year that everyone became one. A Swiftie refers to a fan of Taylor Swift. While the term has been around since the late 2000s – the singer even trademarked the term in 2017 – it became more popular than ever this year, as Swift’s Eras tour attracted fans from all over the world (and even boosted the U.S. economy). A survey from decision intelligence company Morning Consult found that over one in two Americans identify as Swifties as of this year.
A suffix that can be attached to a word in order to communicate a certain vibe or aesthetic. We’ve seen it all over social media: cottagecore, Barbiecore, balletcore…the list goes on. These days, even the most niche aesthetics have their own corner of the internet where people share outfit inspiration, mood boards and memes that fit the vibe of each one. It’s seen as a way for people to express themselves through art and fashion.
A bleisure trip is one that combines both business and leisure. While it sounds like a made-up word, it’s actually becoming a pretty popular concept – a survey from Hilton Hotel and Resorts found that seven out of 10 business travelers want to extend work trips for mini vacations. So next time you’re on a business trip, consider tacking on a few extra days or bringing along family or friends.
This one is not just an excuse to make another Taylor Swift reference – the word “era” has seen an uptick in popularity this year, predominantly on TikTok. People are using it to describe seasons they are going through in life – for example, someone in their “villain era” might be letting go of pressure to be “nice” all the time, while someone in their “healing era” might be focusing on personal growth and healthy living.
“Deadnaming” someone means to refer to them by their birth name when they have changed their name as part of a gender transition. Searches for this word have spiked this year, as anti-LGBTQ incidents and legislation have been on the rise. In April, X (previously known as Twitter) quietly removed its policy against deadnaming and purposely misgendering trans people.
A finalist for Oxford’s word of the year, “situationship” refers to a relationship that has not been defined. In other words, it means you’re not a couple, but you’re not not a couple. Yes, it’s complicated, but so is dating in 2023 – according to a survey from Pew Research, nearly 50 percent of Americans think dating is harder today than it was 10 years ago. No wonder we had to create a new word for it.
We saw this word pop up a few times this year, most notably in June when smoke from the Canadian wildfires traveled down the East Coast, casting the skies in an orange haze and prompting worries about climate change’s increasing visibility. This word also came up in the nationwide discourse on AI, as skeptics voiced their concerns of a sci-fi future in which robots replace humans. If that’s not dystopian, we don’t know what is.