2024 is upon us! But just like in years past, before diving head first into the new year, we like to take this time to look back and reflect on the new words we picked up in 2023. As ever, the latest locutions to enter our vocabularies not only serve as handy tools we can use to better communicate, but they also tell us a little something about our world and where it’s heading and how we’re adapting. And they can pose fresh challenges for translators, too.
Below, we round up some of the most interesting and iconic new words to come into common use, receive recognition from dictionaries and language councils or to hit the headlines over the course of the last twelve months.
Kicking off with one of the year’s more depressing new terms, permacrisis was selected by the Collins Dictionary in the UK as its word of the year. Emerging in a time of pandemic, skyrocketing inflation and war, permacrisis describes “an extended period of instability and insecurity.” According to Collins, the word “sums up quite succinctly how truly awful 2022 has been for so many people.”
However, some have pointed out that besides being pessimistic, permacrisis is also a contradiction of terms. This is because the word crisis comes from the Greek root krisis, which describes the turning point of a disease, and therefore cannot be permanent. But if you ask us, this simply makes the word a great example of how language is constantly evolving, as words acquire new meanings and shed old ones.
Over in the UK, the Cambridge dictionary has also chosen to focus on an AI-related expression. However, rather than opting for an entirely new word, it has instead shone a light on a new definition. The verb hallucinate now refers not only to the act of experiencing something not actually present, whether due to the influence of drugs or delirium, but also to the tendency of AI chat bots to invent fiction and pass it off as fact.
In the year ChatGPT made its grand entrance onto the world stage and ushered us into a new era of content generation in the classroom and workplace, it is no surprise that this term has garnered such recognition.
Another tech-related word added to the English language is algospeak. But unlike hallucinate, this one refers not to the way machines communicate, but to a trick pulled by humans in order to avoid their watchful eye. In short, algospeak is the act of altering spellings or using different words to circumvent algorithims trained to root out banned terms. Common examples include the word corn instead of porn, or seggs as an alternative spelling of sex.
This inventive practice also stretches to include the use of emojis and filters into other aspects of our shared culture, from TikTok videos to song lyrics. It poses an interesting challenge to translators and, over time, it may even lead to permanent changes in how words are spelled and used. Pretty neat, right?
Cozzie livs (English)
Sticking with English but moving away from tech and from the northern hemisphere, Australia’s contribution to our global lexicon this year is the cute expression cozzie livs. Emblematic of the familiar and irreverent sense of humour down under, this term is a corruption of the much heavier expression cost of living (crisis) and makes for a sugar-coated and gentler way of raising this huge challenge facing so many of us.
Interestingly, the format of this neologism is similar to another which surfaced in the UK in 2022 – platty joobs, meaning the Queen’s platinum jubilee. Cozzie livs was named the Macquire dictionary’s word of the year, while the people’s choice award went to AI-generated.
Novent (Norwegian and Swedish)
Joining the Norwegian language by way of Swedish is the portmanteau novent. The scrooges among us might be thinking at this stage that we’re dealing with a mash-up of ‘no’ and ‘advent’ in an outright rejection of festive cheer and goodwill. But the reality is the complete opposite – it’s ‘November’ and ‘advent’ that are being rolled together here.
That’s right, novent refers to what the Swedes also call att smygstarta julen (sneakily starting Christmas early) – putting up your lights and decorations and starting to get into the spirit weeks or even a full month before the first window on your advent calendar has been opened. Always a divisive practice, but one that looks here to stay now that it has been codified in language – at least in Sweden and Norway, anyway!
As part of a drive to weed out gender stereotypes, Denmark’s language council has added the term karrieremand (literally career man) to the Danish language. The reason for this is because, previously, only karrierekvinde (career woman) existed, and this was tinged with pejorative connotations. The new addition is intended to balance things out and combat the notion that there is something remarkable about the idea of a woman being career-oriented. Men can also be guilty of prioritising their careers above all else.
As in previous years, many of the new additions to languages across the world are not new inventions but borrowings from English. Spanish, for example, adds big data and cookie to its lexicon this year, while French has gained English loan words such as long covid, chick lit and crypto art.
But our favourite borrowings are always the ones that take existing words and hammer them into new forms or parts of speech. Like bader in French, which takes the English adjective bad and reclaims it as a verb, meaning to be sad or depressed.
Another fun addition from France is the nonsensical quoicoubeh. Popular among teenagers and Gen Z, this word forms part of a trend where a younger speaker will say something inaudible in the hope their older interlocutor will respond with quoi? meaning what? Quoicoubeh is the inevitable and humorous response.
The origins of this term are unknown, but Radio France has speculated that it evolved from a play on words from the Ivory Coast. It is therefore possible reflective of a wider trend within France to borrow words and terms from adjacent languages in l’Afrique francophone.
Shan dao hou zi (Taiwanese Mandarin)
This term translates literally as mountain road monkey and first originated as a way to describe youngsters who use Taiwan’s winding mountain road as race tracks. In August 2023, the term featured as a moniker in a viral video about a young person struggling with financial and personal pressures. Since then, the expression has come to be understood as synonymous with today’s financially squeezed young adults.
According to the AP, the protagonist’s story sparked a discussion about labour conditions in Taiwan and became one of the year’s defining words in the country, showing how global inflationary pressures and economic developments are not only moulding life in the west, but around the world.
Rounding out the list this year is another term which, like Denmark’s career man above, reflects changing attitudes towards gender equality. Machirulo is a slang word derived from machista. It is used to refer to men who exhibit sexist and backward behaviour, and was first popularised in Argentina before later being adopted widely in Spain.
This year, the Royal Spanish Academy added the word to its dictionary, recognising it as an official part of the Spanish language. It joins other words that have been growing in popularity over recent years, like the dance style perreo and the crispy flatbread from Seville, regañá.
So there you have it – ten new words from around the world which show how our languages and our lives have been changing and evolving over the last year. Which of the words was your favourite? Or do you know of any others you think we should have included? Let us know!