Many sentiments are universal. Many words are not. As 2023 ends, The Associated Press reached out to colleagues around the world for terms that emerged this year and seized or crystalized the popular mood.
Some were newsy, some cultural. A couple were kind of delightful. Whatever the language, the emotions came through. Some might consider AI, or artificial intelligence, as “the” word of 2023, while Merriam-Webster went with “authentic ” and Oxford University Press named “rizz,” a riff on charisma.
We wanted to share diverse examples of what folks in Germany call a “gefluegeltes Wort,” or “word with wings.”
Password child: Australia
The Macquarie Dictionary in Australia has named a “word of the month” all year. One was “cozzie livs,” slang for cost of living. Another was “murder noodle” for snake, both cute and accurate in a country that’s home to the world’s most venomous one.
But we’re going with “password child,” which families anywhere can appreciate. It refers to a child seen as favored over siblings because their name is used in parents’ passwords.
Kitawaramba: Kenya (kiSwahili) It will come back to haunt you
This was uttered by Kenyan pastor Paul Mackenzie, who was accused of leading a starvation doomsday cult that led to the deaths of more than 400 people.
He said it as people confronted him while he waited to be driven to court. The unfamiliar word appeared to be a threat, and it quickly took on a life of its own. Kenyans used it to warn others that something bad may happen to them for their actions.
The word captured the mood with the rising cost of living. With every new economic policy by President William Ruto’s administration, some Kenyans say the related term “kimeturamba” — that electing him has come back to haunt them.
Bwa kale: Haiti (Creole) Peeled wood
This became a death cry against violent gangs in Haiti this year. Civilians chanted the phrase as they pursued suspected criminals. The vigilante movement has killed more than 300 suspected gang members, according to the United Nations.
The term had long been used in Haitian street slang to insinuate male dominance and power. Now it has spread overseas, with a video on social media showing a group of Latino soccer fans — it was not clear from what country — chanting “Bwa kale!” after their team beat an opponent.
Some businesses even use the phrase to promote their wares. One restaurant featured a “bwa kale” special: a hamburger skewered by a stick with two small chunks of meat on top. It came with a side of nachos and three bottles of Prestige, a local beer.
Spy balloon: United States
Perhaps no other term this year defined the growing wariness between the world’s two largest economies. It began, movie-like, with Americans noticing a mysterious white orb in the sky. Some watched as fighter jets circled and shot down the balloon that for days had wandered across the continental United States.
“I did not anticipate waking up to be in a ‘Top Gun’ movie today,” one witness said.
China rejected allegations of surveillance and insisted that balloon and others were purely for civilian purposes. It never used the term 侦探气球 (zhen tan qi qiu), or spy balloon, and instead used 气象气球 (qi xiang qi qiu), meaning “weather balloon.”
Kuningi: South Africa (isiZulu) It’s a lot
This word gained popularity among South Africans to express frustration over multiple controversies occurring at the same time.
In 2023, some South Africans wondered if they could handle much more. They faced record electricity outages. The government was under fire for its close relationship with Russia. Soaring incidents of crime included a daring prison escape by a convicted murderer who faked his death.
On days that seemed too much, “kuningi” captured how overwhelmed South Africans could become.
C’est la hess: France (French) It’s a bummer
Young people insist on keeping the French language plastic despite efforts, backed by law, to preserve it from foreign encroachment.
“C’est la hess” speaks to the multiculturalism of France even as some views continued to harden this year against immigration, shown by the steady progression of the far right.
The phrase is among dozens of words and expressions derived from Arabic, which those under 25 in France have made their own. France has the biggest Muslim population in Western Europe and a long history of immigration from former colonies in North Africa.
税 (zei): Japan (Japanese) Taxes
In a closely watched event on Tuesday, the top Buddhist monk at the Kiyomizu Temple in Kyoto used a brush to write the kanji character of the year on the temple balcony.
The Japanese public chose “zei” to best represent 2023 amid speculation about tax hikes to fund the country’s military buildup.
Under the latest national security strategy, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government is pursuing a five-year plan to double Japan’s annual defense spending to about 10 trillion yen ($69 billion). That would make the country the world’s No. 3 military spender after the United States and China.
The nones: Global: Nonbelievers
In many countries, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of people who are nonbelievers or unaffiliated with any organized religion. They have become known as the “nones” — atheists, agnostics, or nothing in particular — and they comprise 30% or more of the adult population in the United States and Canada, as well as numerous European countries. Japan, Israel and Uruguay are among other nations where large numbers of people are secular.