The Linguistics Behind Rizz, Oxford English Dictionary’s 2023 Word of the Year

The Oxford English Dictionary has crowned ‘rizz’ their 2023 word of the year. A shortened version of charisma, rizz can be used as both a noun and a verb, and gained popularity online thanks to twitch streamer, Kai Cenat. To learn more about how new words evolve, and to discuss the rise of rizz, we caught up with Dr Sally Dixon, a linguist and lecturer at the University of New England.

Sally explains that rizz is interesting, because rather than taking it from the beginning or end of the word, it actually comes from the middle.

“Usually when we get words formed through shortenings, which is a very common thing to do in English, the relationship between the un-shortened and the shortened version is still very apparent to the speech community.”

For many people, they weren’t aware that rizz came from charisma, meaning the association between it and it’s original form wasn’t there. As Sally says, this association or relationship is important for context.

“It has to work in the moment without someone sort of stopping and saying, ‘by the way, when I say rizz, I mean charisma.'”

Social media has connected users from across the globe, and it’s this connection that can lead to interesting linguistic mixes. As Sally notes, social media allows people who would normally be isolated from each other to connect. This allows words to travel from one group to another, and leads to instances like rizz, where a word used by one group becomes (in this case) a global sensation.

As previously mentioned, rizz is somewhat unique in that it comes from the middle of a word. Other examples include fridge (refrigerator) and flu (influenza). While that might be unusual, rizz being used as both a verb and a noun is not. You can have rizz, or you can rizz someone up, and Sally explains that this shift from noun to verb is a feature of English. Sally describes the term ‘word’ as a “form-meaning pairing,” which means that the form (sound) is paired with a specific meaning, which creates the word.

“A new word is not just taking a form that already exists, like table, and then turning it into a verb – to table something. It’s that you’ve formed a new pairing between a form and a meaning.”

But is rizz actually a real word? What is a real word anyway?

As a linguist, Sally considers a word to be something that conveys a meaning. “From a linguist’s point of view, if it’s used with the intention of conveying a meaning and that meaning is received by the other person, then it’s a word.”

Image from Shutterstock used under editorial license.