Yesterday, the folks at Cambridge Dictionary named “Hallucination” the word of the year and, Jesus, they really hit the nail on the head. Like, wow. Frankly, this could be the word of the decade, not merely just the last twelve months. By that I mean, the world has gotten so weird lately that I feel like I’ve been hallucinating for years—and the visions just keep getting trippier.
Of course, the Cambridge Dictionary had a pretty good reason to make “hallucinate” its chosen word. In its announcement, the literary organization explained that the buzz around artificial intelligence—and the technology’s penchant for “hallucinating,” or making stuff up via algorithmic error—was the reason that it chose the word as this year’s winner:
The Cambridge Dictionary team chose hallucinate as its Word of the Year 2023 as it recognized that the new meaning gets to the heart of why people are talking about AI. Generative AI is a powerful tool but one we’re all still learning how to interact with safely and effectively – this means being aware of both its potential strengths and its current weaknesses.
But chatbots aren’t the only ones that feel like they’ve been seeing shit lately. I feel like I’ve been tripping pretty heavily for years.
For me, it probably all began with the former host of The Apprentice running for—and then successfully becoming—President. Trump’s presidential campaign and then, eventually, presidency, felt like one giant acid trip, complete with apocalyptic visions. As Trump’s four years of tweet-filled POTUS-ing came to a clunky conclusion, a mob of radicalized morons stormed our nation’s capital—a sight that, admittedly, I can’t recall ever seeing before. When I initially glimpsed the seat of our government overrun by camo-sporting MAGA types, I definitely had to squint at the CNN news report to make sure I wasn’t just misunderstanding the situation. Around the same time, a global plague wiped out millions of people. Again, not sure if I’ve ever seen that before. The pandemic had that whole “is this just a really weird bad dream” vibe to it.
A lot of equally bizarre—if slightly less catastrophic—stuff has happened since then, and the list of potential hallucinations is long. Elon Musk keeps trying to fight Mark Zuckerberg for some reason. “Havana syndrome” was a thing. A billionaire is using his own teenage son as a personal blood bag. Marvel movies keep bombing but everybody somehow came together for a five-hour Barbenheimer double feature this summer. George Santos. Kids on TikTok have ditched the dances and are getting really into Osama bin Laden instead. Chatbots, which were, in simpler times, largely just annoying customer service popups on websites, have grown the capacity to rap and write short stories and are threatening to take millions of people’s jobs. Bored Ape bros are burning their eyes and skin in the name of partying to the moon. Apple is backing right to repair. The Las Vegas Sphere. Aliens might really exist but nobody cares. A Congressman is threatening to fight a Teamster and bite him, maybe on his dick. America is engaged in two wars—one in Europe and the other in the Middle East—and keeps talking about a third war with China. And, as the icing on the cake, Snoop Dogg just gave up smoking weed this morning.
Yep. It sure feels like we’ve all been plopped down into some terrible “metaverse” game released by Meta that keeps getting progressively weirder. And, now, appropriately our software is hallucinating alongside us.
Anyway, this is all to say: well done, fancy dictionary organization, well done. You have appropriately sized up the situation. Depending on how next’s year’s presidential election goes, maybe consider “terrible world-ending shitshow” (more of a phrase than a word, I know).