mixed greens

Keeping it real

Posted 12/13/23

Among the many pleasures December brings, I look forward to the Merriam-Webster annual announcement of the “word of the year,” the word most often looked up on the dictionary’s …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in
mixed greens

Keeping it real


Among the many pleasures December brings, I look forward to the Merriam-Webster annual announcement of the “word of the year,” the word most often looked up on the dictionary’s website.  

This year’s winner feels especially apt:  it’s “authentic.” Moving from ancient Greek to Medieval Latin, “authentic” originally signified a document warranted to be genuine and therefore authoritative. Gradually, it transitioned to the broader and more nuanced meaning we give it today, describing a person, object or idea that is what it claims to be, in the sense of “sincere,” “true,” “genuine,” “worthy of belief.” 

To “authenticate” is to prove that a person or thing is genuine by presenting factual evidence. That meaning has been refreshed in the digital age, with the necessity of identifiers and verification software to confirm the authenticity of websites and people. Influencers cultivate ways to “project authenticity” on social media, ironically unaware that as soon as you commodify genuineness as a marketing tool devised and projected to your audience, you’ve surely lost it for good. 

“Deepfake” and “dystopian” were runners-up this year, indicating that people are worried about just who or what they can trust in the age of AI. Fraud is nothing new, but the delivery systems keep getting more ubiquitous and harder to detect. 

Some reactions to the 2023 word of the year also focused on authenticity as a personal quality that we might all aspire to but perceive differently, and judge its absence harshly. One memorable example concerned the perception that set, polite phrases in emails come off as phony and hypocritical. 

This complaint gave me pause, since it seems to suggest that abruptness is somehow more sincere, more “authentic” than the rituals of courtesy. In a larger sense, so much of our political discourse suffers from this delusion.  We shouldn’t be fooled into equating performative anger or disdain with a higher sense of sincerity.

Or confuse patience with a lack of determination. Years ago I was having lunch with a dear friend at the old Emerald Inn pub on Columbus Avenue in New York City. We ordered our shepherd’s pie and fell to comparing our frustrations with contentious co-workers at our respective places of employment. An older woman (younger of course than I am now) sat down at the next table and unabashedly joined our conversation, commiserating with us in a delightful Irish lilt. When we had finally exhausted our recital of complaints, she leaned in closer and whispered, “You know, as my old father used to say, you can’t kick anybody toward you.” Words to live by.

Incidentally—and since I often find that my writing projects evoke a particular piece of music I hear in my head as I work—another interesting exploration of authenticity is the “historically informed” performance movement that began in the 1950s and became popular in the 1980s. 

Based upon intense scholarship and informed speculation, these performances recreate the sound and spirit of music from the Middle Ages through the Romantic era as it was originally performed, using period instruments. As with many things, too much strict originalism can be stultifying, but at their best, these performances revive something spontaneous and occasionally rough around the edges.  

If you’ve ever heard Maddy Prior sing 18th- and 19th-century gallery hymns as they might have sounded before the pipe organ and professional choir formalized church singing, you’ve experienced this revelation. 

For a robust take on being authentic in life’s journey, by way of John Bunyan and The Pilgrim’s Progress, search for Maddy Prior and the Carnival Band, “Who Would True Valor See” from “Sing Lustily & With Good Courage,” or click here www.youtube.com/watch?v=KY3MnQRVmOc .  Wishing you joy.

Learn more:


mixed, greens, merriam, webster, dictionary, word, of the year, authentic


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here