The end of December is *that* time of the year. If you’re visualizing panettone, pandoro, endless meals, well, yes, you’re right. But it’s also when the more-or-less official lists of parole nuove get disclosed. Parole nuove are words that became so widespread that they made it into the dictionary. In Italy, there is no official institution that watches over the language, regulating its use and accepting new words. There are, however, many prestigious dictionaries—Treccani, Zanichelli, Devoto Oli, to name a few—and linguistics societies, the most famous being the Accademia della Crusca. They have no prescriptive authority, i.e., they cannot impose rules, but their role is very important since they certify how speakers use the language in their everyday life and how the Italian language evolves. So, let’s see some of the words that will gain their vocabulary entry starting in 2024.
Many, if not most, new words come from the English language. In most cases, the early (if not the only) adopters are younger people, who are generally more open to everything new, language included. Some English words do not change their form—see dissing, crush, vamping, quiet quitting, and smishing. Some others are Italianized, like gamificare (to gameify), memare (to create a meme), and triggerare (to trigger). Some other languages occasionally make an appearance (this year, it was Japanese, with a couple of food items, katsuobushi and wakame), but there’s no comparison to the influence and weight of the English language.
Current Events, Zeitgest, Occasional Headlines
Another source of new words is current events or events from the recent past. The pandemic gave rise to several new words and expressions. This trend is starting to fade, but this year, specific words gained popularity: for example freevax and its opposite, vaccinista—someone who supports the idea of enforcing vaccines in the case of a global pandemic like the one we just experienced.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine brought into Italian words like oblast, an administrative division in Russia and in other former Soviet Union countries, and putiniano; that is, a Putin supporter. Climate change had also an effect on languages, and ecoansia (eco-anxiety) is probably the most used climate-related term. Uncertainty and concern gave shape to several other terms, witnessing a not-too-positive zeitgeist. The entries range from decumulo (the decrease of the spending capacity) to cybercondria (searching the Internet to get health-related information when a person is convinced they are ill). Finally, and unsurprisingly, we have a lot of technology terms, from ChatGPT® to gibibyte and kibibyte.
Some new words are not truly new, but instead gained enormous exposure, becoming a daily presence to many because of some specific events or accidents. Armocromia (color harmony), for example, was on everyone’s lips after the Italian Democratic Party Secretary, Elly Schlein, released an interview in which, among many other things, she thanked her armocromista.
A New Attention to Words
Finally, although there are neither new words nor dictionary entries to symbolize this trend, there’s a growing attention to so-called inclusive language. It didn’t start this year, but it’s becoming more and more relevant. Italian does not have a neutral form; everything falls either into masculine or feminine. And the maschile sovraesteso (using the masculine form when referring to a group of both males and females) is perceived more and more frequently as inaccurate and insufficient. So there are efforts to use both genders—as in Ciao a tutti e tutte instead of the technically grammatically correct Ciao a tutti—or to use periphrasis, like Ciao a tutte le persone presenti. Customs and grammar rules that have been around for a while are not easy to unhinge, but this gentle revolution has come out of its niche. We’ll see where it goes in 2024!
By Claudia Quesito