December 14, 2023

2023 Word of the Year

by brady.lovett in News, White Papers

If we could just drop a gif here instead of this letter, it would be Elmo, arms held victorious amid a wall of flames. Instead, allow us to tell you — with words — how we selected our Word of the Year (WOTY).   

Now in its fourth year, Havas Red’s annual WOTY exercise is informed by quantitative input (via a global Havas Group survey) and qualitative input (sought from a mix of global communications pros and thought leaders across the industry). The task of cherry picking a single word to summarize 2023, however, lands on the desk of our agency’s Reditorial Board — a group of word-obsessed individuals who wade through all submissions to determine which one really nails the cultural zeitgeist.  

Numerically speaking, “AI” received our highest number of submissions because, as one person wrote, “it’s all anyone can talk about.” Another pointed out that AI is “not a word, but a two-letter acronym that symbolizes an unknown leap forward for humanity.” Collins Dictionary ultimately did select “AI” as its WOTY. In contrast, Merriam-Webster chose “authentic” as its WOTY, citing how “the line between ‘real’ and ‘fake’ has become increasingly blurred [amid] the rise of artificial intelligence — and its impact on deepfake videos, actors’ contracts, academic honesty, and a vast number of other topics.”  

Cambridge Dictionary’s WOTY was also a reaction to AI. It chose “hallucinate” because “it recognized that the new meaning [of hallucinate] gets to the heart of why people are talking about AI.”  

But AI is not the WOTY we chose. When we listened in, we heard people talking about much more than just AI. In 2023, it seemed people were talking loudly, quickly and all at the same time about economic stressors, wars, elections, gun control, social justice, women’s health, the climate crisis, and the list goes on. At times it’s felt like, well, complete mayhem.  

Considering that our 2021 WOTY was “adapt” and our 2022 WOTY was “resilience” — both meditations on our post-pandemic state of being — our reality today feels like a setback. But we’re not here to put a shine on things. Our 2023 WOTY doesn’t mince words.  

Our 2023 word of the year: CHAOS 

Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “a state of total confusion with no order.” Merriam-Webster says that, too, but adds that it’s “a state of things in which chance is supreme” and indicative of “the inherent unpredictability in the behavior of a complex natural system (such as the atmosphere, boiling water or the beating heart).”   

There’s chaos in Gaza. Chaos on Capitol Hill. Climate chaos. Economic chaos. AI chaos. Chaos in airports. Chaos on campus. Chaos at home. 

As our survey respondents who selected this word wrote, “Chaos encapsulates 2023’s tumultuous global events — embodying uncertainty, disruption and the need for collective solutions. It reflects our shared experience and challenges ahead.” 

One wrote that we have “too many changes without clear objectives,” while another pointed to “global waring factions (Ukraine, Russia, Israel, Gaza), U.S. congress disruption, Trump indictments, the impact of global warming on the global temperatures and weather phenomena.” 

The opposite of chaos? It’s peace. That’s our hope for 2024. We hope it’s peace that has the last word. 

We further discuss our Word of the Year in episode 43 of our Red Sky Fuel for Thought podcast, featuring Havas Red’s Editorial Director Ellen Mallernee, EVP Linda Descano, CFA®, and client partner Bianca-Maria Cavuoto

Together, they walk through our process of selecting “chaos,” other Words of the Year that have been announced so far (from “AI” to “rizz”) and each of their own personal picks for Word of the Year. 

Red Sky Fuel for Thought“ is a monthly podcast produced by Havas Red, examining emerging themes relevant to brand communicators and marketers.    

Give “Red Sky Fuel for Thought” a listen, and subscribe to the show on iTunes, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app. Don’t forget to rate and review to help more people find us!