Opinion: Dictionaries have shared their word of the year. We wanted to know yours

20231219-Opinion-Your Word

Illiustration by Alberto Mier/CNNCNN — 

What is 2023, in a word?

In recent years, we’ve had gaslighting and goblin modevax and FAFO. Now, thanks to Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com and Oxford, we’ve got authentichallucinate and rizz. Along with the stresses and joys of the holidays and our annual traditions comes, for many of us, the wait to see what the year’s defining words will be.

Rizz (with its contentious, unsettled relationship to charisma) was also on Merriam-Webster’s list of words that stood out according to its data; also among them were deepfakecoronation, implode, dystopianindictkibbutz and deadname.

This list refers to a king, a president, an underwater disaster, transformative technology and how our names shape our social realities and political identity as citizens. It refers to a site where a war, still raging, began. Each of those included words tells multiple stories – one for the person who looked it up and many others for the rest of us.

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These words become tiny talismans, markers of time and truth in daily lives that urge us relentlessly to the next thing, forcing us forward into the future before we’ve even fully experienced the present.

And therein lies not only the popularity of this entire lexical gambit of naming a word of the year in the first place but also the irresistible little thrill we get anticipating them, like a mini-Oscar season for word nerds. When lined up alongside their first cousin, the Google Search trends of the year, words of the year become a common language, an internet “I was here” scrawled on the metaphorical bathroom stall of a world growing harder to recognize by the day.

This year, CNN Opinion wanted to know what YOUR word of the year would be – and why.  Your answers were memorable, direct and in some cases, heartbreaking.

“As both a word and a title, my word of the year is caretaker,” wrote one of you. “Caretaker has a warm sound to it. It is not so warm if you are the aforementioned. Caretaking 24/7/365 is lonely, cold and more than the word ‘difficult’ can convey,” wrote this reader, who continued, “This country, especially in rural, aging communities, is unable to offer services of any kind to their elderly citizens. And there doesn’t seem to be a push to change that….After my caretaker services are no longer required, there is no one to take care of me. I have never married, never have children, and am an only child. I will age on my own. I will literally go to my grave as a caretaker, taking care of myself until the bitter end.”


Another reader cut to the quick by choosing the word hate, which “seems to be spreading across the world and thus I fear for the future.” Still another found more hope in the word relate, describing how “2023 magnified how we relate to each other, behave in our communities, care for the environment, engage in politics…Our positive or negative individual actions create our collective life experience.”

Your words of the year, a selection of which follow below, were a visceral reminder that it isn’t only the words we look up or search for online that we use to define or express ourselves. The words we hold close or speak out for other reasons also tell the story of our lives, piece by piece.

These selections have been lightly edited for clarity and flow, and the views belong to the authors.


My wife of 44 years died in 2022 and I had no idea how I was going to live life alone. We had done everything together or for each other and I was “her husband.” Now, who was I? 2023 has been the year of creating David 3.0, and it turns out I quite like him.

— David A., Fiji


My word of the year, of the decade thus far and into the foreseeable future is LOVE. I got frustrated with watching the news: so many bad things going on, like mass shootings, wars, diseases and racism at the top of the list of other bad “-isms” and “-phobias”. At the same time, so many appeals for help by excellent charitable organizations, crowdfunders and similar requests from individuals in need – too many for any one person to support.

I decided that the only way I could respond and keep myself sane was to LOVE; to live love, share love, and spread the word of love as best I can. With fabric paint, I drew my own hoodie Always LOVE. People see it and respond with smiles and positive comments. I see good people doing good deeds for others, and I thank them for showing kindness and love to the world. I don’t know if I’ve changed anyone’s attitude or actions, but I have at least been supportive of the people already living a life of love.

— Mike, Maryland


Repose — to wait in quiet, engaged attention. I sit with cancer patients and families of those dying in the ICU and older adults pondering their long journeys. My heart waits with them, follows them wherever their story wanders.

How might we all grow deep and rich if we abandoned our hope in somewhere else and sat with one another in tender repose. Not fleeing cancer or Gaza or worries for self or the world…but pitching our tent alongside one another no matter what, even when we struggle to understand or hear or make sense of the harried ways of being human.

— Doug B., North Carolina 


It’s on this Taylor Swift trend, obviously, but you see it on shirts all the time. It’s my “fill in the blank” era and after the proliferation of the concert and movie, it’s how we have started talking.

At work, describing a part of our company’s history, I indicated it was part of our pre-covid era. No one laughed or even made a face that it wasn’t the right word to use, because it is – it’s a way to describe a distinct set of time where something happened. We are all in our Taylor Swift Era… and that’s why it seems to be the word of the year.

— Matt, Missouri


We are conflicted about the war in the Middle East. We are conflicted about whether the economy is hot or cold. We are conflicted about what we should be eating and what we do eat; how much we should exercise and how much we do exercise. We are conflicted about supporting our favorite political party but not liking the party’s candidate. We are conflicted about spending time on self-care vs giving to others. We live in a world of choices, and they all seem pretty gray.

— Susan, Arkansas


Along with all the other (well-publicized) strikes (SAG, WGA, UAW, etc), I was involved in three strikes this year. My company (which is a contractor for the local public transit agency) has separate collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) at three different locations. One of them went on strike in February, and due to extended picket lines, my location was shut down for two days. Then the second one went on strike in May, and we thought they would extend to us, but they didn’t…because we went on strike ourselves the very next week.

Our strike wound up lasting 37 days, and we got almost no press because the other strike was gobbling up all the coverage….We did get a better deal out of it, though — 10% raise and 12 extra sick days a year.

— CJ, California


I chose this word because it represents how I’ve viewed myself this past year. Worrying less about societal pressure, focusing more on getting in touch with my own feelings and thoughts. It’s about refusing to go along with the crowd and freeing yourself to live as you choose and ignoring the mainstream influences.

— Amber, Missouri


My word of the year is sangfroid, which means to be calm, cool and collected in stressful situations. It comes from the French “sang-froid” which literally means “cold blood.” It means to be un-mess-able-with. It is the way Elton John described Marilyn Monroe: “You had the grace to hold yourself while those around you crawled.”

This year we face war and death in several places. We have a planet that is sagging under the uncivil weight of our civilization. Thousands of our young adults are dying from fentanyl, which is now their leading cause of death. We have been set back by “progress.” Glaciers are melting and so oceans are rising, all while rich people are flying to space. If we don’t find sangfroid this year, we will never find it. In the midst of challenges, tragedies and injustices may we all be standing on a big sangfroid.

— Greg, Massachusetts


Fierce is my word for the year. It encapsulates so many feelings and words within it. (Fire, Free, rife, ire, Eire, fie, fier) You “pierce through fear” to be fierce, you cry through it too. You also say inside the old English word “fie” on fear.

The politics and media are “rife” with fear. So many “leaders” have no ability to be fierce, because it means to stand alone at first. It could mean losing your political safety. It means listening to your conscience. And it means letting your conscience be the “fire” that moves you forward, even with “impossible” odds. We just passed an issue for women’s rights, Issue 1, in Ohio in the face of massive opposition. It happened because we are fierce.

— Elise, Ohio


My choice is adaptability, a word that’s taken on new weight in the age of AI. As we’ve started to share our spaces—physical, digital, and cognitive—with advanced technology, it’s adaptability that’s kept us afloat. This year has been a primer; looking ahead, https://caridimanaka.com it’s clear that adaptability will become even more essential. It’s about staying agile as we step into a future where change is the only constant, and AI is an ever-greater part of that change.

— Duane, Michigan

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