The term ‘gaslighting’ was listed by Merriam-Webster as being last year’s most-defining word
In a year where artificial intelligence (AI) ushered in a new dimension to the digital age and where social media has at times been a battleground for disinformation, Merriam-Webster, the oldest dictionary publisher in the United States, says that its users have had one word on the tips of their tongues in 2023: “authentic.”
The AI boom and the growth of so-called ‘deepfakes’ – where images or videos can be digitally manipulated and deceive viewers – has led to a scenario where it is becoming increasingly difficult to believe one’s own eyes when viewing content online.
And, according to Merriam-Webster, the public’s search for clarity has led to a spike in searches for the word “authentic” as the knot separating fact from fiction becomes increasingly difficult to untangle.
“We see in 2023 a kind of crisis on authenticity,” Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large Peter Sokolowski said, according to the Associated Press on Monday. “What we realize is that, when we question authenticity, we value it even more.”
The publisher added that the renewed interest in the word was propelled in part by “stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media” leading to what it described as a “substantial increase” in search queries. The dictionary producers also said that singers like Sam Smith and Taylor Swift have also popularized the word this year by making statements about pursuing their “authentic voice” or “authentic self.”
Even Elon Musk, the owner of X, formerly Twitter, was responsible for an uptick in searches for the word after he called for people to be more “authentic” on the platform.
Some of the words that achieved runner-up status also reveal a snapshot of this year’s most-discussed topics. “Deepfake” was itself included, as was “deadname” – which the dictionary defines as “the name that a transgender person was given at birth and no longer uses upon transitioning.”
“Indict” saw a surge in 2023 amid the legal woes of former US president Donald Trump, as did “dystopian.” The word “kibbutz,” which refers to communal settlements in Israel, also saw a large spike after Hamas’ October 7 cross-border attack on Israel.
Last year, Merriam-Webster said its word of the year was “gaslighting,” a term that describes manipulating another person in an attempt to make them question themselves.
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