Shucking Oysters: Keeping it Real

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Merriam-Webster recently announced the 2023 word of the year. I immediately thought clusterf*ck, sinister, or narrative. It’s not the frequency of a word in our verbal exchanges or in the vernacular of journalism. It’s how many times people looked for specific words on their website. The publishing company’s editor-at-large, Peter Sokolowski, and his team, crunched the data on word look up spikes and world events that correlated. 

Drum roll please. The word of 2023 is “authentic.” There was no particularly huge surge at any given time, but a constant steady interest in the word. Given this year so far, it is perhaps not surprising that authentic rises above the ashes, if you will. We live in a world of looming intrusive artificial intelligence, fake boobs, and governments that no one trusts. Even Elon Musk, of all people, at the World Government Summit in Dubai, urged heads of corporations, politicians, and other sundry folk, to “speak authentically” on social media. 

“We see in 2023 a kind of crisis of authenticity,” Sokolowski said. “What we realize is that when we question authenticity, we value it even more.” Oddly, Merriam-Webster states that “authentic is what brands, social media influencers and celebrities aspire to be … “authenticity” has “become a performance,” the publication added. Authenticity with botox? 

Many point to the pandemic as the beginning of the end of social cohesion in Canada and around the world. And lest you forget, social cohesion is all about feeling connected in your relationships and within your community. Back in October 2020, IPSOS found that “more Canadians have “weak” (30%) than “solid” (26%) social cohesion. By March of this year, IPSOS reported that Canadians’ “trust in government to do what is right” had dropped from 58% in late 2020 to 43% in 2023. Equally disturbing, the survey found that “In Canada, only 33% of citizens believe that most people can be trusted, against 67% who believe that you can’t be too careful dealing with people.” 

“Can we trust whether a student wrote this paper? Can we trust whether a politician made this statement? We don’t always trust what we see anymore,” Sokolowski said. “We sometimes don’t believe our own eyes or our own ears. We are now recognizing that authenticity is a performance itself.”

It’s no secret that the pandemic stressed us out more than any other recent event. Lockdowns, vaccine mandates, school closures, travel restrictions, do not exactly instill warm and fuzzy memories. As Geoff Norquay in Canadian Politics and Policy wrote, “the resulting bonfire of grievances let loose some nasty demons that are likely to be with us for a long time: many politicians and public officials at all levels still experience personal insults and public threats just for doing their jobs.” And it’s not just politicians that experience those nasty demon darts. 

Other top word searches for 2023 were “doppelganger” and “dystopian.” Sokolowski calls doppelganger “a word lover’s word.” Defined as a “double,” or a “ghostly counterpart,” it comes from German folklore. Interest in the word peaked with Naomi Klein’s latest book, “Doppelganger: A Trip Into the Mirror World, about her experience of being confused with feminist author and conspiracy theorist Naomi Wolf. As one reviewer wrote, this became a “springboard into a broader narrative on the crazy times we’re all living in.”

No surprise here with the word “dystopian.” Climate breakdown, societal woes, global disputes, “the future of society bereft of reason.” Not just world events but also books, and the media brought on interest in the word. “It’s unusual to me to see a word that is used in both contexts,” Sokolowski said.

Wikipedia, notes that dystopia “is often treated as an antonym of utopia, a term that was coined by Sir Thomas More and figures as the title of his best known work, published in 1516, which created a blueprint for an ideal society with minimal crime, violence, and poverty.” Oh, Thomas, how naive. 

And next year? What word will it be? One can only guess. Survivalist? PFD? Extraterrestial? 

In the meantime, I’m going to start my own authentic blog, once I get the male Brazilian butt lift (more angular) and some facial fat injections.