How Pop Culture Influenced Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year

Oxford University Press has officially announced the 2023 Word of the Year, and you can thank a certain Spider-Man actor for its sudden rise in popularity.

Published: Dec 6, 2023  |  

Assistant Editor at New Thinking

Artwork by Naeva Okasian

Oxford University Press [OUP], publisher of arguably the most influential and accepted record of the English language, the Oxford Dictionary, has named their 2023 Word of the Year. This year’s chosen word, rizz, rose to popularity earlier this year after a BuzzFeed interview with Tom Holland went viral on social media. Perhaps trying their hand at having their own rizz and appealing to the Gen Z audience, the Oxford University Press isn’t the only one integrating this word into everyday use.

If you aren’t an active member on social media platforms such as TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube, you likely have no idea what I’m talking about or what this transcendental word rizz even means. Luckily for you, that’s exactly what I’m here for! Thought to have been shortened from the word ‘charisma,’ rizz is defined by the OUP as “style, charm, or attractiveness, and the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner.” Widely used across TikTok and other social media platforms, rizz has suddenly become a commonly used noun and interestingly enough, a verb, for many.

My roommate and I often joke about how much rizz someone has based on certain attributes and qualities that person possesses. Take Aiden Kroll, a guitarist on TikTok, whose posts have gone viral for his exceptional electric guitar skills and, dare I say, rizz. My roommate and I often watch his videos and find ourselves saying some version of “he is so rizzful.” Discussing the rizz that Aiden has gives him popularity, yes, but more importantly, it gives him the ability to continue sharing his passion with others, to inspire people through his music and confidence, and to be unapologetically himself. 

That is the power of language. To connect people, ideas, and cultures in a way that otherwise isn’t possible. My roommate wouldn’t have found Aiden on TikTok if I didn’t show her 20 of his videos and talk her ear off about his immense amount of rizz. I wouldn’t have connected with people on social media about similar books we love or upcoming book events to attend if it weren’t for these niche words like rizz.

While Tom Holland claims to have no rizz (which for the record, is absolutely not true), his use of the word and its subsequent rise in popularity serves as a great example of not only the power and sway celebrities carry in the spotlight but also the ease in which these pop culture moments assimilate into our everyday lives and the opportunities they provide for us to connect. It’s like a real-life example of “fetch,” only instead of Gretchen Wieners using that word in hopes that everyone catches on, social media ran toward rizz and never looked back. 

If a word that was virtually unheard of a year ago can now become the Oxford Dictionary’s 2023 Word of the Year, maybe we too can learn from this and reflect on our integration of others’ ideas and beliefs to foster a more accepting, connective, and creative world. If my papa, who is the stereotype for an 83-year-old with no understanding of social media, can easily use rizz in a sentence, it seems that we all might have something to learn from one another after all. Rizz is a testament to the beautiful evolution of language, not just in its derivation from the word charisma, but in its ability to connect people and integrate the ideas of one generation into the common practices of others.

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