Who has the most "rizz"? Oxford's word of the year shows us Black culture's impact

Do you have rizz? Could you rizz up a random person in the street or bar? Gen Z's favorite word shows your game

By Nardos Haile

Staff Writer

Published December 4, 2023 7:55PM (EST)

Zendaya and Tom Holland attend a photocall for "Spiderman: No Way Home" at The Old Sessions House on December 05, 2021 in London, England. (Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty Images)
Zendaya and Tom Holland attend a photocall for "Spiderman: No Way Home" at The Old Sessions House on December 05, 2021 in London, England. (Karwai Tang/WireImage/Getty Images)

What the hell is "rizz" anyway? Oxford's word of the year has infiltrated our language, beating out words like "Swiftie" (Taylor Swift super fans) or "situationship" (the in-between stage of dating).

Announced on Monday, the buzziest word of the year is just a shortened slang for the word charisma. To Oxford, it just means “style, charm or attractiveness,” or “the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner.” The latter is the most important part to Gen-Zers who shot the word into fame this year with TikTok trends like a man on the street interview-flirting with random strangers to determine who has the most rizz. Rizz is just a cool word to describe a person with real, strong social game.

According to Oxford, the word "speaks to how language that enjoys intense popularity and currency within particular social communities — and even in some cases lose their popularity and become passé — can bleed into the mainstream . . . the spike in usage data for rizz goes to prove that words and phrases that evolve from internet culture are increasingly becoming part of day-to-day vernacular and will continue to shape language trends in the future.”

Also, rizz has become so popular in our everyday speak that it has been popularized in mainstream conversation by various celebrities, including actor Tom Holland. The "Spider-Man" famously told Buzzfeed, “I have no rizz whatsoever. I have limited rizz.” The actor said he won over his long-term girlfriend actor Zendaya by playing the "long game" — "that's where my rizz is at," he said. Oxford reported that since actor's interview, there was an increase in the usage of the word.

But even before Holland popularized the word with wide audiences, Oxford credited YouTube and Twitch streamer Kai Cenat's impact in popularizing the word. In 2022, the online personality offered advice on how to have rizz. Then the word rose to popularity on TikTok with a plethora of trends being created to speak to new "interpretations and variations" of the word. 

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Rizz's popularity is a sign of the impact Gen Z and internet culture have had on the English language but the word's origins truly lie with Black culture and African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Its originator, Cenat, is a Black man from New York who told Complex that the word was made up by his group of friends before he shared it on Twitch. To Cenat, the word is not short of charisma, instead it "meant game." 

This isn't the first time that words originating with Black people or culture intersecting with Black queer communities have been co-opted and popularized by white people or just the mainstream. Words like "slay," "queen," "finna," "cap," "on fleek" and "lit" are just some examples that have historically been used in Black communities but did not gain popularity until it was adopted by the white mainstream. AAVE has shown up all over online spaces as Black influencers celebrities and people create memes and TikTok dances. More times than not, words used by Black people online have gone viral but instead of acknowledging that origin, they've been deemed a new vocabulary term created by Gen Z. When used by non-Black people these cultural words can become bastardized versions of themselves. Look, it's not like anyone can ban non-Black people from using AAVE but one has to be careful how they use it and most importantly, if they are using it right.

When it comes to rizz, Oxford has correctly credited it to a Black person but also credited to a predominately white online space and celebrity for popularizing it. Both can be true in this case because "from activism to dating and wider culture, as Gen Z comes to have more impact on society, differences in perspectives and lifestyle play out in language, too.” We can't leave out the Black Gen-Zers like Cenat who play a large role in shaping this online discourse and change in language. As the way we interact with words shifts because of how much time we spend online, it's important to give dues where they are owed.

By Nardos Haile

Nardos Haile is a staff writer at Salon covering culture. She’s previously covered all things entertainment, music, fashion and celebrity culture at The Associated Press. She resides in Brooklyn, NY.

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