“Authentic” Is the Word of the Year, but Does It Mean What We Think It Means?

Merriam-Websters annual naming tradition once again defies truth and reality.


John Stonestreet

Shane Morris

In the beloved movie The Princess Bride the character Vizzini frequently cries, “inconceivable!” about things that keep happening. Finally, another character observes, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” That scene comes to mind annually, when Merriam-Webster Dictionary announces its “word of the year.”  

The announcement is intended to recognize words that have defined our cultural moment. In recent years, it has recognized words our cultural moment has redefined. For example, last year’s word “gaslighting” describes unhealthy behavior in which someone tries to manipulate you into questioning your sanity. However, like the word “toxic” before it, “gaslighting” is now a catch-all term used by some to shut down pretty much anyone who disagrees with them. “They” was the 2019 word of the year, which, in ordinary English, is a third-person plural pronoun. In today’s Newspeak, it’s a mandatory way of referring to someone who claims to be “nonbinary,” also a redefined word. 

This year’s word is “authentic,” which the dictionary defines as “not false or imitation: real, actual,” or “worthy of acceptance or belief as conforming to or based on fact.” However, the context in which this word is most frequently and passionately used is the debate over gender identity, as in “be your authentic self.” So, it now refers to anything but reality or conformity to fact. To be “authentic” in 2023 often means stubbornly ignoring fact, hormonally masking or surgically reconstructing fact, and demanding that others also ignore fact, even in classrooms, competitions, locker rooms, and in print. In short, “authenticity” now means conformity with subjective internal feelings that are widely assumed to be the defining feature of individuals and the highest value in society. 

Theologian Carl Trueman documented how we got to this place—how the self became psychologized, how psychology became sexualized, and how sex became politicized—in his book The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. This new definition of “authenticity” is part of that story—that living a fulfilling life consists primarily in looking within, discovering who you “truly are,” and then projecting that identity into the world. These are all central to his account.  

Trueman explains 

Expressive individualism particularly refers to the idea that in order to be fulfilled, in order to be an authentic person, in order to be genuinely me, I need to be able to express outwardly or perform publicly that which I feel I am inside. … In a society where the expressive individual is increasingly the norm and increasingly presented as that which we should all be, then the idea of society itself forcing us to play a role that we don’t feel comfortable with inside makes us inauthentic.

This new definition of “authentic,” that what I feel inside is the highest truth, would have baffled people in centuries past and still baffles many non-Westerners today. However, the real problem is that this new definition of “authentic” is utter nonsense. Truth is not primarily subjective but objective. Reality is not decided by individuals but given by a Creator. One of the things our Creator both demands of us and enables us to do through redemption is conform our inner selves to His will and design, which He reveals, objectively, in both creation and Scripture.  

To be authentically me is to be who God says I am. Our identity is established by, guaranteed by, and secured in Jesus Christ. Even more important than getting words right is pointing to the reality to which words refer and are permanently tethered. Words become nonsense otherwise, and that should make this practice of redefining words truly “inconceivable.” 

Before I sign off today, I wanted to say thank you for making Breakpoint a part of your Christian worldview diet. Everywhere I travel, I meet listeners who share how these daily doses of clarity help them think biblically, have hard conversations, and disciple their kids and grandkids. If Breakpoint has been a help to you and your family, please consider making a year-end gift of support 

This Breakpoint was co-authored by Shane Morris. For more resources to live like a Christian in this cultural moment, go to 


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