Editor’s Note: ‘Authentic’ Was On People’s Minds in 2023

The manic month of December is done. We’ve given and received the gifts and good cheer and awakened to a new year. 

The Twelve Days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and end Jan. 5, also known as Twelfth Night and, for early Christians, the Eve of the Epiphany. Whatever you call it, it’s time to extinguish the yule log, roll up the lights, store the decorations, denude the tree – and get down to the serious business of unadulterated winter. 

What that means to each of us will be different. Perhaps what it could mean is contemplation of the word “authentic” – Merriam-Webster’s (MW) Word of the Year for 2023. 

A word receives the distinction by being looked up the most times in a single year from MW’s online dictionary (the official dictionary for us here at the Peninsula Pulse). 

MW authors said “authentic” is a high-volume lookup most years, but saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity and social media.

“‘Authentic’ has a number of meanings including ‘not false or imitation,’ a synonym of real and actual,” MW’s authors write, “and also ‘true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.’ Although clearly a desirable quality, ‘authentic’ is hard to define and subject to debate – two reasons it sends many people to the dictionary.”

We know the line is blurring between “real” and “fake,” due to numerous factors, including the rise of AI (deepfake videos, ChatGPT) and the general untrustworthiness of social media. Some exploit our uncertainty, knowing it’s become harder to tell what’s real and true. 

That we still want what’s authentic is a hopeful sign. We want it for our authentic ethnic recipes and our authentically sourced coffee and lipstick. We want it for ourselves. We also want it in the people we follow, whether social media influencers, politicians or celebrities. 

The danger, of course, is that what those people we’re following are selling doesn’t have to be authentic or true, it only has to appear that way.

“Ironically,” MW points out, “if  ‘authentic content creators’ are now recognized as the gold standard for building trust, ‘authenticity’ has become a performance.”

Though, perhaps, it has always been.

“All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare in the 16 century (and Pythagoras before him), “and all the men and women merely Players.” 

That stage is global now and increasingly virtual, sometimes exclusively so, and perhaps the high lookup for “authentic” in 2023 simply means we’re growing more aware of what we don’t know – and that can’t be a bad thing.

Happy Twelfth Night, all.