Year’s top words signal massive change

“A.I.” is one of the top words of 2023. Ironically, so is “authentic,” just like this *very real picture* of what’s been eating all the deer at your hunting shack and driving political discourse in Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District. (PHOTO: David J, Flickr CC-BY)

Why do people seem so unsettled even as measurable data shows an improving economy and wondrous new technology? 

Well, the world’s on fire, both literally and figuratively. Culture and politics factor in, too. It’s hard to rest easy when we’re constantly agitated. American society seems perpetually disappointed that we aren’t getting what’s shown in the increasingly false advertising. 

But there’s a bigger factor. I don’t think we properly acknowledge the massive change happening in human history right now. Even if we don’t understand the change, we know something’s up. And that’s unsettling enough.

Earlier this year, the Global Language Monitor named “Artificial Intelligence” or “A.I.” as the top word or phase of 2023. Collins Dictionary also named “A.I.” as its top word.

I’m not sure everyone understands how much A.I. already affects our lives. My social media feed overflows with A.I.-generated images that people share either not knowing or caring that they’re fake. Then, the same algorithms that control what we see on the internet now influences how we respond. 

For instance, it’s entirely possible to write a complete e-mail in Outlook with just the tab key. It might be meaningless, but it would take the form of real e-mail. Students can do this with papers. Media outlets experiment with A.I.-generated copy, especially on high traffic, low quality websites.

We’re entering the first presidential campaign year where we can expect vast amounts of A.I.-generated propaganda, much of which will seem real to the viewer. I have no faith that we’re ready for it. 

Meanwhile, Oxford Dictionary named “rizz” its top word, a slang term indicating one’s “romantic appeal or charm.” Because “rizz” seems like something A.I. would write, it bears mentioning that Merriam-Webster’s top word is “authentic.” As in, “I’m not A.I., I’m authentic. So much so that I have rizz.” 

Pretty much the rest of our lives will be spent trying to convince people we’re not robots. Others at first. Later, ourselves.

I’ve written about the top words of each year for the past decade, mostly because language speaks to our experiences better than an end-of-year retrospective. 

Just a perusal of the Global Language Monitor list details the root of our public anxieties. How about “climate change,” a phrase we’ve been hearing for decades, now coming into stark focus.

Right now in northern Minnesota people are talking about the lack of snow so far this winter and the threat of wolves, real or perceived. Both are ecological issues tied to our changing climate and nature’s response to new stimuli. Anger might be projected at TV meteorologies or the Department of Natural Resources, but it’s really related to large-scale change we don’t control — at least, not directly. 

How about “global migration crisis,” another of the GLM’s top phrases. Anti-immigration sentiment fueled a right-wing surge in European elections this year. Immigration remains a top issue for many in the upcoming U.S. election as fears rise over people seeking asylum at the southern border. 

But do we ever consider why this is happening? Political and climate factors in South America send people in search of safety and security for their families. That’s the problem and it’s happening all over the world. We might slow this migration, but it intensity will only grow with time unless the root issues are addressed.

This isn’t hopeless. Fusion energy and creative uses for common elements like hydrogen and even the iron ore we mine here in Minnesota are coming. We remain human beings, capable of authentic intelligence. So long as we keep using our words instead of our fists, our guns and our fears, we will endure.

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog and co-hosts the podcast “Power in the Wilderness” on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Saturday, Dec. 30, 2023 edition of the Mesabi Tribune.


  1. AI is a problem for those with low life intentions. The squeezing of the buck out of those with few is it’s greratest threat. But like any other tool it depends on who is using it, Soon the incorrigable will defend its willy nilly use as a constiotuational right much like the preversion of the second amendment. We already see it happening with a direct line from the Citizens United decison. How crooked and how much lying can those with informatioal weapons prepetrate ? Just look at the how the fight agianst seat bets, cigarette smoking or to your sub topic climate change were handled by those who gained wealth from not incorporating the deadly downside to those issues.

  2. Fred Schumacher says

    We all die, and our wealth can’t go with us. Why can’t the people who hunger for more wealth not understand that simple reality? People who are willing to ruin the world for their own greed and can’t see that their progeny will have to live in the world they’ve created. There’s a lot of self-centeredness out there.

    Our grandchildren were here during the holidays. I always tell them, this place is yours. We’re not selling it. If you need a refuge, it’s here. Humans are a generalist species that has always used mobility as a problem solving tool. Trying to stop migration is a fool’s errand. Fear is a great motivator. Fear is a money maker. When our rental house had a fire, it made the news. When I rebuilt it, it didn’t. Nobody came with notepad and camera.

    Right now, I would not want to be a Republican legislator. Their own voters are out there gunning for them, making sure they toe the party line, or else…. At least Democrats don’t have that problem. They have an easier task, problem solving in the real world and not in the conspiracy theorist ether.

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