AP’s Words of the Year From Around the World

AP’s Words of the Year From Around the World

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.

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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.

– Rod McGuirk in Canberra, Australia

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.

– Carlos Mureithi in Nairobi, Kenya

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.

– Danica Coto in San Juan, Puerto Rico

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.”

Read More: China Has an Extensive Satellite Network. Here’s Why It Would Use a Balloon to Spy

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.

– Mogomotsi Magome in Johannesburg

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.

– John Leicester in Paris

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.

Read More: Prime Minister Fumio Kishida Is Giving a Once Pacifist Japan a More Assertive Role on the Global Stage

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.

– Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo

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.

In a recent package of stories, The Associated Press Religion Team took an in-depth look at how this phenomenon is playing out in several places.

– David Crary in New York

山道猴子 (shan dao hou zi): Taiwan (Mandarin) Mountain roadmonkey

This first emerged as a grumbling way to refer to riders who treated Taiwan’s winding mountain roads as a racetrack. But the term became a popular shorthand for young people’s economic pressures in August, when a YouTube user dropped a 20-minute film called the “Life of a Mountain Roadmonkey.” It touched a nerve, attracting nearly 7 million views.

The “roadmonkey” is a motorcyclist who tries to become an Instagram influencer. He lends his girlfriend money to upgrade her bike, but she cheats on him and leaves him. In debt, he works overtime to rebuild his savings, becoming isolated from friends. Ultimately, he dies in a crash.

His story touched off a discussion about the low wages and long hours for many in Taiwan, where housing and traditional “success” are often out of reach.

– Huizhong Wu in Taipei, Taiwan

Bharat: India (Sanskrit) India

When a dinner invitation sent to guests of the G20 meeting in India featured the word Bharat, the immediate question for many was whether the country of more than 1.4 billion people would now be called by its ancient Sanskrit name.

Many saw Bharat as a political move by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government. The word resonated with Modi’s supporters, who argued it would salvage the country from the taint of colonialism. But Muslims and other minority groups felt even more uncomfortable.

The name has now been used at various international forums. But there has been no formal announcement of a name change.

– Sheikh Saaliq in New Delhi

Quoicoubeh! France (French) Who knows?

This word became super popular with French teenagers this year. They use it to annoy their elders, and it doesn’t have a real meaning. It’s simple: A teen says something inaudible, hoping that parents or teachers will answer “Quoi?” or “What?” The response: “Quoicoubeh!”

Its origins remain mysterious, although Radio France suggested it was inspired by a play on words from Ivory Coast, where some respond “quoicou” to a person saying “quoi.” An AP journalist in Ivory Coast, however, said that “unfortunately,” he had never heard of this.

In any case, a word open to interpretation seems like a good way to enter 2024 and whatever lies ahead.

– Samuel Petrequin in Paris

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