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From Around the Globe, Words That Entered the Zeitgeist

Are you a password child? Quoicoubeh!
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 16, 2023 2:00 PM CST
From Around the Globe, Words That Entered the Zeitgeist
The Notre-Dame de la Garde Basilica is seen in Marseille, France, on Sept. 19. The word "quoicoubeh!" became super popular this year with French teenagers, who use it to annoy their elders, though it doesn't have a real meaning. It's simple: A teen says something inaudible, hoping that parents or teachers...   (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin, File)

Many sentiments are universal; many words are not. As 2023 ends, the AP 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 picked "rizz," a riff on "charisma." Here's a sampling of diverse examples of what folks in Germany call a "gefluegeltes Wort," or "word with wings," from around the globe:

  • "Quoicoubeh!," or "who knows?" (France): This word became super popular with French teenagers this year. They use it to annoy their elders, even though it doesn't have a real meaning. It's simple: A teen says something inaudible, hoping that parents or teachers will answer "Quoi?" ("What?"). The response: "Quoicoubeh!" Its origins remain mysterious, although Radio France suggested it was inspired by a play on words from the Ivory Coast, where some respond "quoicou" to a person saying "quoi." An AP journalist in Ivory Coast, however, said that "unfortunately," he'd never heard of this. In any case, a word open to interpretation seems like a good way to enter 2024 and whatever lies ahead.

  • "Kuningi," or "it's a lot" (South Africa; isiZulu): 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; and there were soaring incidents of crime, including 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.
  • "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." 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.

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  • The "nones," or "nonbelievers" (global): In many countries, there's been a dramatic increase in the number of people who are nonbelievers or unaffiliated with any organized religion. They've 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.
  • "Spy balloon" (United States): Perhaps no other term this year defined the growing wariness between the world's two largest economies. It began, movielike, 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.
Check out other examples here. (More words stories.)

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