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Monday, March 4, 2024

Oxford Word of the Year: ‘Rizz’ Takes the Crown

Oxford University Press, the venerable academic press known for publishing the Oxford English Dictionary, has officially declared ‘rizz‘ as its Word of the Year for 2023. In a departure from tradition, the selection process included public participation and thematic pairings. ‘Rizz,’ Gen Z (or perhaps Gen Alpha) slang meaning “style, charm, or attractiveness,” surpassed other contenders like ‘situationship,’ ‘prompt,’ ‘de-influencing,’ and even ‘Swiftie.’

The term ‘rizz’ made its debut in 2022 but gained widespread attention in June when actor Tom Holland used it in an interview with Buzzfeed, stating, “I have no rizz whatsoever. I have limited rizz.” This sparked a wave of memes, contributing to a 15-fold increase in overall usage compared to the previous year, according to Oxford’s data. Casper Grathwohl, the president of Oxford Languages, noted that the choice reflects the rapid pace of language change amplified by social media and emphasized the word’s inherent joy in pronunciation.

Oxford’s Word of the Year is based on usage evidence from its extensive corpus of over 22 billion words, collected from English-language news sources globally. The selection aims to mirror the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the preceding year while holding potential for lasting cultural significance.

Unlike previous years, Oxford involved the public in the selection process. Last year, the public voted on finalists, and this year, they participated in head-to-head thematic pairings, helping to shape the shortlist. Themes included celebrity culture (“Swiftie” vs. “de-influencing”), personal characteristics (“rizz” vs. “beige flag”), the changing world (“prompt” vs. “heat dome”), and relationships (“parasocial” vs. “situationship”). Ultimately, Oxford’s team made the final decision after public input.

Grathwohl correctly predicted that the contest would narrow down to “Swiftie” and “rizz.” However, “de-influencing” made a strong bid to outshine “Swiftie” before the final decision.

‘Rizz’ stands out not only for its meaning but also for its unique linguistic features. Typically, abbreviations are derived from the start or end of a word, but ‘rizz’ breaks this convention by being an abbreviation from the middle. Additionally, ‘rizz’ has versatility as it is used as a verb, such as “rizz it up,” meaning to charm someone. Grathwohl noted that when a word expands from one part of speech to another, it signals potential staying power.

Commenting on Tom Holland’s self-assessment of having “limited rizz,” Grathwohl playfully remarked that even limited charm is still charm, highlighting the subjective nature of the term. The term ‘Swiftie,’ despite its association with Taylor Swift fandom, illustrates how fan-created languages, known as ‘fanalects,’ can transcend online communities and become more widely adopted.

While ‘rizz’ captures the zeitgeist of social dynamics and attractiveness, other notable contenders reflect the influence of artificial intelligence. The term ‘prompt,’ referring to an instruction given to an A.I. program, saw increased usage following the release of ChatGPT in late 2022. Grathwohl observed that specialist vocabulary related to A.I. entered mainstream discourse, propelled by the significant volume of conversations about generative A.I.

In a nod to the potential role of artificial intelligence in the future, Grathwohl suggested that language models with extensive data-crunching capabilities could play a role in selecting the Word of the Year. This hints at the evolving dynamics between human language evolution and the influence of machine learning technologies.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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