2023 Retrospective: Beyond AI – A Year of Linguistic Diversity and Cultural Nuances

by Ethan Kim
Linguistic Trends 2023

Throughout 2023, The Big Big News engaged with international colleagues to identify key terms that defined the year’s cultural and social zeitgeist.

While some might pinpoint artificial intelligence as the defining term of 2023, alternative selections were made by prominent dictionaries – Merriam-Webster chose “authentic” and Oxford University Press selected “rizz,” a playful take on charisma.

The aim was to showcase the variety of phrases that resonated globally, akin to the German concept of a “gefluegeltes Wort” – a phrase that takes flight.

Password child: Australia

Throughout the year, Australia’s Macquarie Dictionary highlighted unique monthly terms. Notables included “cozzie livs,” a colloquialism for living costs, and “murder noodle,” a playful yet accurate term for snakes.

A standout term was “password child,” signifying a favored child, as evidenced by their name being used in parental passwords.

  • Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia

Kitawaramba: Kenya (kiSwahili) A Warning from the Past

Kenyan pastor Paul Mackenzie, accused of leading a deadly starvation cult, used this phrase when confronted. It became a cautionary saying in Kenya, warning of the repercussions of one’s actions.

  • Carlos Mureithi in Nairobi, Kenya

Bwa kale: Haiti (Creole) Symbol of Resistance

This phrase, meaning “peeled wood,” transformed from street slang into a rallying cry against gang violence in Haiti. It exemplifies the country’s fight against crime and has gained international attention.

  • Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Spy balloon: United States

The term “spy balloon” encapsulated growing tensions between the U.S. and China, sparked by a mysterious balloon shot down over the U.S. China, however, insisted on calling it a “weather balloon.”

Kuningi: South Africa (isiZulu) Overwhelming Realities

“Kuningi,” translating to “it’s a lot,” emerged as a way for South Africans to express their frustration with concurrent national challenges, such as power outages, government controversies, and rising crime rates.

  • Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg

C’est la hess: France (French) The Struggle of Modern Times

Reflecting France’s multicultural fabric, “C’est la hess” became popular among the youth, illustrating their unique linguistic blend, especially with the integration of Arabic-derived expressions.

  • John Leicester in Paris

税 (zei): Japan (Japanese) A Symbol of Fiscal Changes

The character “zei,” meaning taxes, was chosen to represent 2023 in Japan, highlighting the public’s anticipation of tax increases to fund significant military expansions.

  • Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo

The nones: Global The Rise of Secularism

The term “nones” refers to the growing number of people disaffiliating from organized religion globally, a significant cultural shift observed in many countries.

  • David Crary in New York

山道猴子 (shan dao hou zi): Taiwan (Mandarin) Socioeconomic Pressures

Originally describing reckless motorcyclists, this term evolved to symbolize the economic struggles of Taiwan’s youth, as depicted in a viral film that resonated with millions.

  • Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan

Bharat: India (Sanskrit) A Question of Identity

The use of “Bharat” at the G20 meeting sparked debate over India’s national identity, reflecting the current government’s nationalist leanings and the ensuing societal tensions.

  • Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi

Quoicoubeh! France (French) The Enigma of Youth

This nonsensical phrase became a fad among French teenagers, used to confound adults. Its ambiguous origins only add to its appeal as a symbol of youth culture’s unpredictability.

  • Samuel Petrequin in Paris

As 2023 draws to a close, these diverse terms not only reflect the year’s linguistic trends but also mirror the complex cultural and social dynamics that defined the period.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Linguistic Trends 2023

What does “password child” signify in Australian linguistics of 2023?

“Password child” is a term used in Australia to describe a favored child, identifiable by their name being used in parental passwords.

How has the term “Bwa kale” evolved in Haiti?

Originally street slang for male dominance, “Bwa kale” (meaning “peeled wood”) evolved into a slogan against gang violence in Haiti, symbolizing resistance and vigilance.

What is the significance of the term “Kuningi” in South Africa?

“Kuningi,” meaning “it’s a lot” in isiZulu, emerged in South Africa to express the overwhelming feeling caused by simultaneous national challenges like power outages, political controversies, and increased crime.

Why was “税 (zei)” significant in Japan in 2023?

The kanji “税 (zei),” meaning taxes, was chosen to represent the year 2023 in Japan, reflecting public anticipation of tax increases to fund the country’s military expansion.

What does “Quoicoubeh!” represent in French youth culture?

“Quoicoubeh!” is a nonsensical phrase popular among French teenagers, used to perplex adults and reflecting the unpredictable nature of youth culture and language trends.

More about Linguistic Trends 2023

  • Global Linguistic Trends in 2023
  • Australian Phrase “Password Child”
  • Haitian Slang “Bwa Kale”
  • South African Term “Kuningi”
  • Japan’s Kanji of the Year “税 (zei)”
  • French Youth Slang “Quoicoubeh!”

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Sarah Jones December 27, 2023 - 7:37 am

really liked how you captured the essence of these words from around the world. its like a snapshot of our global culture in 2023.

Emily R. December 27, 2023 - 1:07 pm

this is a cool way to look at the year. Never thought about how words in different languages can tell us so much about what’s happening in the world.

Anna K. December 27, 2023 - 1:50 pm

Loved the section on ‘password child’, such a unique term! reminds me of how language evolves with technology.

Jake S. December 27, 2023 - 7:35 pm

some of the phrases are a bit obscure, maybe need more context? especially the ones from Haiti and France.

Mark T. December 27, 2023 - 10:07 pm

Interesting article but i think there’s a typo in the section about Japan’s “zei”. Shouldn’t it be more clear about the tax implications?


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