‘Tis the season to get excited, fellow word nerds! Merriam-Webster announced its Word of the Year for 2023: authentic.
While it’s always interesting to know what word rises to the top of our collective linguistic curiosity, this year’s word isn’t a huge surprise. You could even say we saw it coming.
An authentic, genuine premonition
The proverbial writing was on the wall last year when Merriam-Webster announced gaslighting as the top word of 2022, which Zinzin highlighted in a blog post, along with other words that rose to the top.
And only two months before that, in October 2022, Zinzin wrote a blog post about authenticity. It’s called Authenticity in naming: when brands keep it a little too real. We explored “real” trends we’ve noticed in naming and branding, and what it actually means to be an authentic brand.
At the end of that blog post, we also made a prediction:
Zinzin predicts that in another dozen years, authenticity will be a hallmark of good naming and branding. Technology products will evolve and become more sophisticated, but they will still need great names. A new generation of consumers will arise that will be more savvy than ever, and they will bristle at the notion of being reduced to mere “consumers” of goods. Until then, when it comes to your company or product’s name and primary messaging, keeping it real is a must. It’s something you just can’t fake.
While this seems like common sense, we’ve seen too many brands forget what it means to be authentic. And that’s why we’re thrilled that authentic is the Merriam-Webster’s word of the year. It means that A LOT of people are looking it up online and (hopefully) talking about it.
More about authentic, the top word of 2023
“A high-volume lookup most years, authentic saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media,” writes Merriam-Webster in their recent announcement.
They continue their thoughts on why this particular word rose to the top:
Authentic has a number of meanings including “not false or imitation,” a synonym of real and actual; and also “true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.” Although clearly a desirable quality, authentic is hard to define and subject to debate—two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary.
Authentic is often connected to identity, whether national or personal: words frequently modified by authentic include cuisine and dish, but also self and voice. Celebrities like singers Lainey Wilson, Sam Smith, and especially Taylor Swift all made headlines in 2023 with statements about seeking their “authentic voice” and “authentic self.” Headlines like Three Ways To Tap Into Taylor Swift’s Authenticity And Build An Eras-Like Workplace associate this quality with pop-culture superpower.
And with the rise of artificial intelligence—and its impact on deepfake videos, actors’ contracts, academic honesty, and a vast number of other topics—the line between “real” and “fake” has become increasingly blurred.
Whether you’re a Swiftie or not, Taylor Swift’s influence on culture and the economy is undeniable. And as she continues to value authenticity, her worldwide fans — and brands — will follow.
Authentic like Taylor Swift
When I started to write this post about the 2023 word of the year as it relates to naming and branding, I didn’t realize it would lead me to Taylor Swift. But as my teenage daughter would probably attest: all roads lead to Taylor Swift, even in naming.
In the linked Taylor Swift headline referenced by Merriam-Webster above, Forbes contributor Caterina Bulgarella writes a great article exploring the power of Taylor Swift’s authenticity and how it relates to companies, brands, and human wellbeing:
…What makes Swift a cultural phenomenon is not only her musical prowess and versatility but the trademark authenticity she puts on each note and verse…
The resulting 20-some-years tale is what everybody, from teenagers to adults, craves. The audience is one with her – her story, their story. Her voice, their voice. Some view it as another post-pandemic energy release. But cradled in that nostalgic vibe is a desire to belong and experience authenticity, not just regret…
“Did you hear my covert narcissism I disguise as altruism? Like some kind of congressman?” sings Taylor Swift. She, the hero, puts herself out as the antihero.
It is this fearless digging into personal needs, values and aspirations, one’s own and others’, that ties authenticity to a sense of wholeness and wellness.
Is it coincidence that Taylor Swift’s record-breaking Eras tour is the same year that Merriam-Webster announces authentic as its word of the year? Who knows. (But my daughter might have a good guess.)
I think it definitely shows that people are hungrier than ever for authentic experiences and emotional connections, including within the world of naming and branding.
Since the dawn of Zinzin time in 2011, our naming agency believes that great names demonstrate your brand positioning. For instance, when a company uses “real” in their name, they’re explaining to you that they are authentic, genuine, trustworthy, etc. instead of showing you how they’re authentic. And it’s always more powerful — and more authentic — to demonstrate rather than to explain.
As we’ve said before, if writers love sentences, then namers love words. We study and play with them. Laugh and sneer at them. Sometimes we break them apart, and other times we invent new ones. We delight in the challenge of distilling a message or emotion into one or two words that truly evoke a brand position.
Ps. Stay tuned for more top words of 2023
Merriam-Webster is typically joined by others like Oxford University Press, Collins Dictionary, Google, and The Economist, who announce their own top word of the year.
By the way, Merriam-Webster also identified these other top words for 2023 in terms of dictionary lookup: coronation, covenant, deadname, deepfake, Doppelgänger, dystopian, EGOT, elemental, implode, indict, kibbutz, rizz, and X.
Feel free to add more top words of 2023 in the comment section below, if you read about them before we’ve had a chance to post updates here!