OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: To be authentic

There's a danger in writing my column early at this time of year.

Usually I write it on Monday afternoon (or morning, if I happen to finish pages before noon), then re-edit it Tuesday to put it on the page for Wednesday. The last month or so, though, I've had afternoon appointments each Monday, so I've been writing on Sunday. Last week, in addition to that Monday appointment, I also took the day off Tuesday, which meant that the Wednesday page was done Monday before I left for my appointment. All that to say: I missed two big word of the year announcements.

I know! How dare I!

And as I type this, I'm reading about Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year, but that will have to wait till next week. The life of a word nerd is way too busy sometimes. This week I take on Merriam-Webster's pick.

This year's word is "authentic," which the dictionary says is "something we're thinking about, writing about, aspiring to, and judging more than ever. A high-volume lookup most years, authentic saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI [artificial intelligence], celebrity culture, identity, and social media."

Yep, there's AI again. I should have known.

"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,'" the dictionary wrote on its blog. "Although clearly a desirable quality, authentic is hard to define and subject to debate--two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary. ...

"[W]ith the rise of artificial intelligence--and its impact on deepfake videos, actors' contracts, academic honesty, and a vast number of other topics--the line between 'real' and 'fake' has become increasingly blurred."

Because politics apparently wasn't doing enough to erase that line.

I've seen a lot of talk on Threads about being authentic, and I think that's what's been driving more people there recently, with so many of us less inclined to put on an act about who we are. That feeling may not last if more X/Twitter trolls make their way over (most are finding engagement is not as easy if no one responds to their provocations), but for now, it's a joy to see so much gorgeous photography, critters and people being themselves.

However, said the dictionary, "Authentic is what brands, social media influencers, and celebrities aspire to be. Elon Musk made headlines when he said that people should be more 'authentic' on social media. Apps and platforms like BeReal make recording 'authentic' experiences their main purpose. No matter how much artifice and calculation goes into the production of these videos, as Rebecca Jennings of Vox puts it, 'wherever people are supposedly being authentic on the Internet, the money will follow.' Ironically, with 'authentic content creators' now recognized as the gold standard for building trust, 'authenticity' has become a performance."

So, as with so many things today, if someone describes themselves as "authentic," they're really not. If people can't tell what kind of person you are by your actions, the way you describe yourself is meaningless.

Speaking of inauthenticity, "deepfake" was among the runners-up this year, meaning "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." Elon Musk earlier this year had his lawyers argue that he shouldn't have to give testimony about his public statements because, as a celebrity, they might be deepfakes (the judge didn't buy that).

"Rizz" (slang word for sexual appeal or charm) also saw a spike in lookups this year (more on this next week), as did "coronation" (ceremony to crown a new monarch) around the time of King Charles III's coronation earlier this year. Politics (RNC ad on another Joe Biden term), the environment (Canadian wildfires) and AI worries led to more lookups of "dystopian" ("of, relating to, or being an imagined world or society in which people lead dehumanized, fearful lives"). I'm a bit of a fan of dystopia in fiction, such as "The Last of Us," but in real life, not so much.

Darn my wanting authenticity in my reality.

Word of the year announcements aren't the only thing that tend to run heavy at this time of the year; there are also holiday concerts and other events. Sunday I and friends Sarah and Sandra attended the River City Men's Chorus' "Holiday! 2023" concert and were again blown away by the talent on that stage. If you're in the central Arkansas area, make plans to see the last performance at 7 p.m. Thursday at St. James United Methodist Church, 321 Pleasant Valley Drive in Little Rock.

The music is sure to lift your spirits, especially the opening and closing numbers (and hey, there are sing-alongs too!). Just, please, remember to silence your cellphone before the concert begins; concertgoers are there for authentic and gorgeous music, not your default ringtone.

Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with your phone.

Assistant Editor Brenda Looper is editor of the Voices page. Email her at blooper@adgnewsroom.com. Read her blog at blooper0223.wordpress.com.

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