As its word of the year, the Oxford University Press...

As its word of the year, the Oxford University Press chose “rizz,″ a term used by Gen Zers to describe someone’s ability to attract a romantic partner. Credit: AP/Caleb Jones

Obsolescence creeps in on little cat feet.

One watches for signs. A creak in the body here. A memory escaped there. A fluidity of movement mysteriously evaporated.

And, occasionally, a smack in the forehead that’s a blunt reminder that you’re aging.

One such poke arrived this week when the folks behind the august Oxford English Dictionary unveiled their word of the year:

Rizz.

OK, boomer, you say to yourself. How can that be the word of the year when I’ve never heard of it? Never seen it, never used it, doesn’t even provoke the slimmest thread of recognition, not a whit of a gossamer of a scintilla of recognition.

The reason for my befuddlement, it turns out, is that rizz is all the rage in places I do not frequent. Like TikTok, where it apparently has its own hashtag that has received billions of views. It’s popular slang among Gen Z, per the Oxford folks, and means, and I’m quoting them, “style, charm, or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner.”

It’s thought to be short for “charisma.” You wouldn’t think there’d be such uncertainty about a word of the year but it’s a delightful comment on the fluidity of language, on the way words are coined and adapted and spread. The process is egalitarian. Anyone can invent a word, though their “authorship” might remain unknown.

Rizz, as noted, was popular among TikTokians before bursting into a more widespread limelight — though still not wide enough to enlighten me — in June when English actor Tom Holland of “Spiderman” fame told a BuzzFeed interviewer, “I have no rizz whatsoever. I have limited rizz. My brother Paddy has ultimate rizz.”

Cue the instant empathy, knowing what it’s like to have a younger brother who definitely was cooler — sorry, rizzier — than you. And I say that despite my skepticism that Tom’s admission was less genuine and more pose, given how his pretty-darned-good life has been working out. Nevertheless, I can say now that rizz is a word I might have used over the years had I know it was a thing.

There is another issue here. Given our times — and you can insert your preferred adjective here, whether it be troubling, confusing, dystopian, disconnected, or something a little more sunny — one wonders whether “rizz” really should be the word of the year?

The Oxford folks saw it as emblematic of the trend by which internet inventions enter popular lexicon and eventually dictionaries like the OED. Fair enough. But that seems to make it merely interesting, at best, not word-of-the-yearish. For context, last year Oxford went with “goblin mode.” Look it up.

Rizz survived a winnowing process that produced other finalists like “Swiftie.” Even I knew that one. And no doubt Swifties can console themselves about that also-ran status by remembering that the singer they love, who clearly has plenty of rizz, has won pretty much everything else this year.

More illuminating perspective can be found by considering the choices of Oxford’s word-of-the-year rivals.

Collins Dictionary picked “AI,” short for artificial intelligence, an apt selection for a year when ChatGPT use exploded, launching worries about a future in which humanity’s creation overtakes humanity.

Merriam Webster went with “authentic,” a sign-of-the-times commentary as everyone seeks authenticity — in dining and travel, friends and mentors, literature and song — as all sorts of leaders and followers purvey all sorts of inaccuracies and falsehoods, and as AI (nod to Collins) threatens to completely undermine our concepts of reality and truth.

The Oxford folks said their words were “chosen to reflect the mood, ethos, or preoccupations of the past year . . . ”

I don’t remember feeling particularly rizzy this year. But what do I know. My memory, like everything else, is creeping away, too.

 

n COLUMNIST MICHAEL DOBIE’S opinions are his own.

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