The contrast between the prestigious Oxford University Press (OUP) and its selection of Gen Z slang word “rizz” as its word of the year is nothing short of comedic.
The term—an abbreviation of charisma—is defined as “style, charm, or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner,” according to OUP’s Monday announcement. It can also be used as a verb.
“Rizz is a term that has boomed on social media and speaks to how language that enjoys intense popularity and currency within particular social communities—and even in some cases lose their popularity and become passé—can bleed into the mainstream,” Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Languages, said in the statement.
Rizz, which first emerged in 2022, was popularized this year in part by actor Tom Holland’s viral interview with Buzzfeed in June. The 27-year-old actor said he has “limited rizz” compared to his brother who has “ultimate rizz.” In the same interview, he alluded to his romantic relationship with Spiderman co-star Zendaya: "It definitely helps when the characters you’re playing are falling in love with one another. You can sort of blur the lines a little bit," he said.
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The word rizz topped a list of eight words, selected by Oxford, that the press says reflect the “mood, ethos, or preoccupations of the past year.” Over 30,000 members of the public voted across four days to create a shortlist, which included 'Swiftie,' a term given to Taylor Swift fans; 'prompt,' an instruction input into artificial intelligence platforms like ChatGPT; and 'situationship,' an informal romantic connection. The final selection was made by Oxford’s language experts.
Oxford compared the evolution of the word rizz from charisma to the commonly used words like fridge and flu, which are isolations of embedded syllables from refrigerator and influenza.
“This is a story as old as language itself, but stories of linguistic evolution and expansion that used to take years can now take weeks or months," Grathwohl said. "The spike in usage data for rizz goes to prove that words and phrases that evolve from internet culture are increasingly becoming part of day-to-day vernacular and will continue to shape language trends in the future."
Last year, OUP made a similarly colloquial selection for its 2022 word of the year with the phrase "goblin mode," a term for "unapologetically self-indulgent, lazy, slovenly, or greedy" behavior. After the COVID-19 pandemic saw a wave of so-called goblin behavior, the word received an astounding 93% of the total, at 318,956 votes.
“Given that last year ‘goblin mode’ resonated with so many of us following the pandemic,” Grathwohl said, “it’s interesting to see a contrasting word like rizz come to the forefront, perhaps speaking to a prevailing mood of 2023 where more of us are opening ourselves up after a challenging few years and finding confidence in who we are.”
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Write to Armani Syed at firstname.lastname@example.org