Angus Colwell Angus Colwell

‘Rizz’, ‘vibes’, and what we lose with Very Online language

Credit: iStock

Welcome to our language: ‘rizz’. Here’s the OED definition: colloquial noun, ‘defined as ‘style, charm or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner’. It was announced on Monday as the Dictionary’s word of the year, and it’s been amusing to see some commentators talk about it like they’d heard it before.

Rizz became popular the way all words do now: they start somewhere opaque online, then filter effortlessly into real life. As a 23-year-old, I use it with friends semi-frequently, although I kind of wish I didn’t.

It’s dispiriting the way the internet is hollowing out language. If we speak worse, we think worse; as Orwell said, ‘the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts’. And ‘rizz’ is just one example of the lazy way that language develops now.

The jargon of viral Twitter and TikTok is producing a stale monoculture. When words go ‘viral’, it means that everyone starts using them. They become clichés immediately. The worst example of this zombie language is the decline of adjectives, and the replacement of descriptive terms by saying something has ‘X’ vibes. ‘Vibes’ is a linguistic cop-out. You don’t have to explain anything, because saying ‘vibes’ will do the trick. Some other horrendous examples include: ‘it’s giving cringe’ – which is similarly vague – or saying that something ‘hits different’ if you can’t place why Coca Cola tastes better in the cinema. Listen to the mood-based names of the playlists that the Spotify bots are recommending me: #lightacademia, #duvetday, #serotonin, #bottomlessbrunch. Thomas Frank, in his book The Conquest of Cool, showed how big business adopts the counterculture and sells it back to consumers. The new language, it turns out, is good business.

It would be fine if this language was plain, intelligible or funny.

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