OPINION | BRENDA LOOPER: Do you have it?

What happens when you let the public vote on a shortlist of words for word of the year?


Oxford University Press announced the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year last week, noting, "2023 marked the era of personal--and professional--PR. And what does it take to command attention? A whole lot of charisma, or the shortened form, 'rizz.'

"Pertaining to someone's ability to attract another person through style, charm, or attractiveness, this term is from the middle part of the word 'charisma' ... . Use of the word as recorded in our corpus has increased dramatically in 2023, with a peak in June 2023, when actor Tom Holland was asked in a widely reported interview about his 'rizz,' to which he answered, 'I have no rizz whatsoever, I have limited rizz.'"

I don't know about that. I think the actor has a lot more rizz than he thinks he does.

But before that BuzzFeed interview, reported Sarah Kuta of Smithsonian Magazine, "The term first arose from gaming and Internet culture, with YouTube and Twitch streamer Kai Cenat popularizing it in 2021, according to USA Today's Olivia Munson."

About 30,000 people voted to winnow the shortlist created by Oxford lexicographers from terms that surged in popularity over the course of the year, and from the finalists the dictionary picked the winner. That process last year (the first year it was chosen by the public) resulted in "goblin mode"--"a type of behavior which is unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly or greedy, typically in a way that rejects social norms or expectations"--being named word of the year.

Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Languages' dictionary division, said, "One of the reasons [rizz is] moving from being a niche social media phrase into the mainstream is, it's just fun to say. When it comes off your tongue, there's a little bit of joy that comes with it," reported Jennifer Schuessler of The New York Times.

Speaking as a word nerd, one of my favorite things about words is being fun to say--like persnickety, codswallop, flummox, tump, etc.--but I just don't know about "rizz" yet.

"The selection, according to Oxford, is meant 'to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations' of the preceding year, while also having 'potential as a term of lasting cultural significance,'" Schuessler wrote.

Really? Rizz? Maybe it's the Gen X in me looking down on those Gen Z whippersnappers (another word that's fun to say), but I don't see it.

But wait ... the Collins (AI), Cambridge (hallucinate) and Merriam-Webster (authentic) picks all had ties to artificial intelligence. Why not Oxford?

There was an AI-related word among the finalists, but as the public voted, it didn't draw the same amount of attention as rizz. Apparently it has limited rizz as well. "Prompt," "an instruction given to an artificial intelligence program, algorithm, etc., which determines or influences the content it generates," made it to the final round but was beaten out.

"Words relating to AI have been particularly prominent in the corpus data this year, with use of the word 'prompt' in contexts that relate to AI increasing hugely this year from very little use in our corpus before 2022," wrote the dictionary in its announcement. "As AI systems have spread to business, education, creative contexts, and elsewhere, more people have developed the skills needed to use them effectively and, in some cases, becoming specialized as 'prompt engineers.'"

Like with "hallucinate" and "authentic," this is a new sense of an older word. Because, and I can't believe I constantly have to bring this up, language evolves. (Please, please, stop with the redefinition conspiracy theory about "vaccine." I'm begging you!)

But another term almost beat rizz for top honors this year: Swiftie. "[I]t's hard to think of this year without thinking about fandom culture and Taylor Swift, who dominated headlines with her record-breaking tour, movie deal, and billionaire empire," wrote Oxford.

"The term 'Swiftie,' meaning 'an enthusiastic fan of the singer Taylor Swift,' seems to date from the late noughties and has been gradually growing in prominence. The word was more than 10 times more common in September 2023 than a year before in September 2022, with a noticeable uptick in the use of the word likely related to coverage of Swift's highly successful Eras tour."

I'll admit I'm not a Swiftie, though I do admire much of what she's been able to accomplish (like increasing voter registration and standing up for creatives and women).

"Situationship," referring to a romantic or sexual relationship not considered to be formal or established, was the remaining finalist. Among the shortlist terms was "beige flag"--boring or lacking originality--pretty much the opposite of rizz.

While you ponder rizz and if you have it, remember that the Lake Superior State University Banished Words List is due to be released at the end of the year. Tell me what words and phrases you would love to toss out with the Christmas tree this year (I wouldn't be surprised if rizz is one of them). Email me at the address below.

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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