2023 Word of the Year Is “Enshittification”

Sheraton New York Times Square Hotel, New York, NY–Jan. 5—The American Dialect Society, in its 34th annual words-of-the-year vote, selected “enshittification” as the Word of the Year for 2023. More than three hundred attendees took part in the deliberations and voting, in an event hosted in conjunction with the Linguistic Society of America’s annual meeting.

The term enshittification became popular in 2023 after it was used in a blog post by author Cory Doctorow, who used it to describe how digital platforms can become worse and worse. “Here is how platforms die: first, they are good to their users; then they abuse their users to make things better for their business customers; finally, they abuse those business customers to claw back all the value for themselves. Then, they die. I call this enshittification,” Doctorow wrote on his Pluralistic blog. 

Presiding at the Jan. 6 voting session were Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee and language columnist for the Wall Street Journal, and Dr. Kelly Elizabeth Wright of Virginia Tech, data czar of the New Words Committee. “Enshittification is a sadly apt term for how our online lives have become gradually degraded,” Zimmer said. “From the time that it first appeared in Doctorow’s posts and articles, the word had all the markings of a successful neologism, being instantly memorable and adaptable to a variety of contexts.”

Word of the Year is interpreted in its broader sense as “vocabulary item”—not just words but also phrases, compounds, and affixes. The items do not have to be brand-new, but they have to be newly prominent or notable in the past year.

The vote is the longest-running such vote anywhere, the only one not tied to commercial interests, and the word-of-the-year event up to which all others lead. It is fully informed by the members’ expertise in the study of words, but it is far from a solemn occasion. 

Members in the 134-year-old organization include linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, grammarians, historians, researchers, writers, editors, students, and independent scholars. In conducting the vote, they act in fun and do not pretend to be officially inducting words into the English language. Instead, they are highlighting that language change is normal, ongoing, and entertaining.

In a companion vote, sibling organization the American Name Society selected “Gaza” and “Barbie” as Names of the Year for 2023 in its 20th annual name-of-the-year contest. The two names were declared co-winners after tying in a runoff. Further information can be found on the society’s website.