What will the word of the year be in 2024?

Surely a million-dollar question. Well, maybe not on its own. But the answer would serve as an indicator of the ideas that will saturate public consciousness and become almost cliched in their pervasiveness. Think of the repetitive dubbing of our politics and world as ‘increasingly polarized’. Is it? Or do we just notice it now and tend to recall with rose-tinted smart glasses, the collaborative glory of the past?

The main English-speaking dictionaries’ words of the year (Merriam-Webster, Collins, Cambridge, and Macquarie) display a consensus on a singular theme. All their choices—namely ‘authentic’, ‘AI’, ‘hallucinate’, and ‘generative AI’—unsurprisingly refer to the explosion of discourse surrounding AI since the release of ChatGPT.

Honorable mentions and personal favourites from previous years include ‘Goblin Mode’ (Oxford 2022), meaning behaviour that is “unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy”, and ‘Nomophobia’ (Cambridge 2018), a fear of not having access to your mobile phone. If we are to follow that these words are in some way reflective of the behaviours of our society, we may not be overly impressed with ourselves.

Oxford loves rizz

However, the Oxford Word of the Year 2023 brings a new perspective. Oxford University Press, the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, chose ‘rizz’, meaning charm and allure when attracting a partner.

Rizz transports us back to teenage notions of awkwardness and playground flirting, but it too is linked to AI. The methods that enabled the popularization of rizz—whether that be TikTok’s, YouTube’s, or Instagram’s algorithms—all coaxed that delicious release of dopamine from our brains. Algorithms are a form of AI, so while superficially the popularization of rizz seems disconnected from the idea of AI stealing our office jobs, it is inextricably linked.

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How important is generative AI?

The growth of generative AI triggered the explosion of AI into the zeitgeist. However, upon further analysis, generative AI makes up relatively little of the current AI market and is forecast by GlobalData to rise to a mere 10% of a $908.7bn AI market by 2027. AI has been subject to fearmongering and scrutiny more than ever this year, but it has been altering our society long before the arrival of generative AI. Perhaps the recent increase in AI regulation and cooperation is too little too late.

Words, words, words

To return to the importance of words that define a year and what the word of 2024 will be, we do know one thing: words are key to our understanding of reality. If AI can mould them, perhaps it can mould our reality. The word of 2024 will be power, which only the artificial requires to survive.