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Merriam-Webster declares 'authentic' word of the year

Although clearly a desirable quality, authentic is hard to define and subject to debate—two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary.

During a time brimming with AI advancements, a burgeoning celebrity culture, and an ongoing quest for identity in the realm of social media, one word has stood out prominently in conversations, headlines, and the collective consciousness of 2023: "authentic."

"Authentic" was selected as the 2023 word of the year by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, landing among the most-looked-up words in the dictionary's 500,000 entries, the company said Monday.

What makes "authentic" particularly intriguing is its versatility and omnipresence across diverse facets of life, which is why it's understandable that the term experienced a substantial surge in searches this year.

Its association with identity, whether on a personal level or within broader cultural contexts, has been profound. From discussions on authentic cuisine and dishes to more personal introspections about one's 'authentic self' and 'authentic voice,' the term has been a linchpin in understanding and expressing individuality, the company shared.

Merriam-Webster says "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," the company said.

The company highlighted how celebrities like Lainey Wilson, Sam Smith, and Taylor Swift have been at the forefront of championing authenticity in 2023, each sharing statements about seeking their “authentic voice” and “authentic self.” 

At the same time, the rise of AI impacted renegotiations of actors' contracts and drove writers to the picket lines, deepfake videos blurred the lines between real and fake, and Chat GPT sparked debates on academic integrity.

Interestingly, authenticity has also become a coveted quality for brands, social media influencers, and celebrities alike. Elon Musk's call for more "authenticity" on social media reverberated across platforms, aligning with the rise of apps like BeReal, dedicated to capturing genuine experiences.

The company added that “authentic content creators” are now recognized as the gold standard for building trust, authenticity has become a performance.

Other most looked-up words in 2023 on Merriam-Webster are “rizz,” “deepfake,” and “dystopian.”

As the year draws to a close, "authentic" remains a word that encapsulates not just a fleeting trend, but a fundamental yearning within our society—an aspiration to seek and express our truest selves amidst the complexities of a rapidly evolving world.

 To view the full list of Merriam-Webster's words of the year, click here.