Word of the Year: Whirlwind

Published 4:00 pm Thursday, January 4, 2024

Could you describe the last twelve months with just one word? Could you boil down all those experiences and find just one word that sums it all up? Pretty difficult, huh?

Each year, several English dictionaries select a “word of the year” that best describes our collective experience since the last time we rang in the new year. They use different metrics and methods to make the pick, and often, it ends up being the dictionary’s most-searched word. That’s a good indicator of what’s on a lot of people’s minds.

No matter what “word of the year” gets chosen, it’s a good bet that it’s the subject of some sort of hot topic for discussion for a sustained period of time.

Last year’s lists included an odd hodge-podge of vocabulary, ranging from “gaslighting” and “permacrisis” to “goblin mode” and “woman.” Perhaps 2022 was a weird year for all of us, yeah?

This year’s words are all over the place too, ranging from social media slang to words that have to do with the newest bit of technology everyone seems to be losing their minds over.

My least favorite word selected this year was from the UK-based Collins Dictionary. They selected “AI” as the best term to sum to 2023. As much as I’d love to roll my eyes at this pick, I can’t deny that AI, or “artificial intelligence,” has dominated a lot of discussions this year.

I have read many articles (and countless other headlines) about the impact AI is having or could possibly have in several aspects of life going forwards. Teachers have warned students not to use AI tech to write their assignments for them. Artists have lamented much about how AI-generated art is created based off their stolen works. Sports Illustrated got plenty of flack earlier this year for making up soulless AI-generated writers to produce AI-generated articles. Part of the Hollywood strikes earlier this year were over actors wanting to ensure that studios couldn’t take advantage of their images with AI technology in the future.

The list goes on and on, and yet so many people still seem to be enamored with AI. Personally, I’m not impressed. I certainly would never want a computer to come do the part of my job that I love the most: the actual writing part!

Dictionary.com’s selection was also related to AI technology. Their word of the year was “hallucinate.” But more specifically, their newly-added definition of the word as it relates to artificial intelligence: “to produce false information contrary to the intent of the user and present it as if true and factual.”

So, for example, if you ask AI to write about the Baltimore Orioles, it might give you something about birds that play baseball (even though birds do not, in fact, play baseball).

In their explanation, the dictionary notes that “hallucinate” is “particularly notable among the terms that AI has popularized because it refers not to an aspect of how AI functions but to one of the way it can malfunction. In this way, it’s akin to other cautionary tech terms, like spam and virus, that are now entrenched in our language.”

In my opinion, I have watched enough Star Trek episodes in my life to know that computers can be just as unreliable as people!

In 2022, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) outsourced their pick to the public, and their continued that trend this year too. So the word selected was “rizz” which was defined as “style, charm, or attractiveness.”

It’s a slang term popular with the crowd who uses Tik Tok, and probably is a shortened form of the word “charisma.” The OED noted that the amount of people looking up/using the word increased dramatically around June when an interviewer asked actor Tom Holland about “the secret to his rizz.” His response: “I have no rizz whatsoever.”

While the public may have picked this word because it’s apparently very popular, I think I’m probably not going to include it in my personal vocabulary any time soon.

Merriam-Webster’s word was probably the best one out of all the dictionaries’ picks. They selected “authentic,” which they noted was searched quite frequently in 2023 thanks to “stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media.” It’s a word, they say, that is “hard to define and subject to debate.”

I think “authentic” is a word that we can all at least relate to, and it’s something that many people like to strive for. Maybe it makes sense to sum up our society this year as one that was heavily focused on finding the differences between what’s “real” and what’s “fake.”

As for me, I also like to choose my own personal “word of the year” to sum up my own experience since last January. Last year, I picked “resilience” because life threw some curveballs, but I somehow managed to weather those challenges and bounce back even better than before.

I had a hard time trying to figure out which word to select for this year (so I guess I might understand why the OED keeps crowdsourcing their picks now). But eventually, I settled on “whirlwind.”

According to Merriam-Webster, the word has several definitions including “a small rotating windstorm or limited extent,” “a confused rush,” “a violent or destructive force or agency,” and “resembling a whirlwind, especially in speed or force.”

I feel like 2023 has flown by so fast that I could barely keep up half the time. Like a literal whirlwind, I kind of felt like I was being tossed about by the wind, pushed to new experiences I’ve never had before.

Thankfully, I’ve got a good foundation (my family) that keeps me rooted, so I managed to make it to the end of the year in one piece. Though I’m hoping for calmer winds in 2024!

What would be your personal Word of the Year?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.