Skip to content

And the winning word is…

The words of the year and the ones to be banished
Shelley Column Pic
The words we use and misuse

As we approach the end of the year, publications reveal their 'Word of the Year' based on usage and impact on culture. Collins Dictionary selected 'AI' because the revolution of artificial intelligence has "seen rapid development and has been much talked about in 2023," according to a member of the selection committee.

In the same vein, Cambridge Dictionary picked 'hallucinate' in the context of artificial intelligence as their word for 2023. Definition: “when an artificial intelligence hallucinates, it produces false information.”

Some of the winning words in years past include information superhighway (1993), Y2K (1999), subprime (2007), occupy (2011) and fake news (2017).

As technology and culture changes, so does our vocabulary. Merriam-Webster added 690 words and phrases to their pages this year after evaluation by a lexicographer. Among those added were beast mode (an extremely aggressive manner someone adopts temporarily); jump scare (a scripted moment intended to startle the audience); rizz (romantic appeal or charm); NGL (shorthand for 'not gonna lie'); and zhuzh (some small adjustment or addition that completes the overall look or taste of something).

These words may have been in use for a while but until they reach a certain level of worthiness they don't get included. Once they do, lexicographers keep a close eye on them because once a word falls out of use they fall off the pages, too.

I checked the words added the year I was born to see if they are still in use today. Among the additions were hedge fund, multitasking and zit. I think you could say they've stood the test of time.

While those might be the most significant words of past years, soon we will be hearing about words publications wish to see eliminated. Language is always in flux as words are moved out and others into the lexicon. Some are on the banishment list not because they've fallen out of use but because they are, in fact, used too much or used incorrectly. Compilers of the list feel they are supporting language excellence by encouraging the avoidance of words and terms that are redundant, clichéd, illogical, ineffective, or irritating.

The suggestions made at the end of last year were: moving forward (really, as opposed to…what?); irregardless (which isn't even a word); it is what it is (an excuse to not deal with reality or accept responsibility); amazing (a worn-out adjective that has been on lists for more than a decade); and GOAT (which used to stand for Greatest of All Time but now gets applied, “like table salt on anyone who's any good"). For words and phrases that people apparently tired of a while ago, we sure still heard them a lot over the past year.

Words added and removed, or ones whose definitions are used incorrectly or are in need of banishment come from a place of common usage. But what about in each of our own lives? What word would you say defined the past year for you?

It's an impractical task. How could one word encapsulate 52 weeks of life? Which is the point when it comes to trying to declare a word to be more or less relevant to the larger public. Life is filled with greater complexities than one word could ever capture.

Looking back on the months that have been, it might be tough to determine an individual word of the year because many would come to mind. It's probably easier to compose the list of words we wish would go away. That's certainly the case for me. Cancer. Terrorism. Hunger. War. Homelessness. Orphans. Imagine if these words became obsolete. Unnecessary. No longer needed. That would be glorious.

But of course, there are countless other awful diseases, social issues, domestic problems and international concerns that impact so many lives and are ready to take their place. Knowing this is the case, perhaps our best effort moving forward, irregardless of our circumstances because it is what it is, would be to put together an amazing effort and make next year the GOAT. Okay, okay, I'm kidding of course.

Instead of focusing on words we want to get rid of, maybe we could set our sights on words we could more fully embrace. One year from now our words of the year could be hope, faith, optimism and anticipation. Imagine the lexicographers scratching their heads over those. That’s my outlook.