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The Language Of 2023

As I sat down this morning to look back and reflect on the year that has been, I found myself decidedly avoiding the very real but painful realities of global conflicts, natural disasters, and economic tribulations that have punctuated 2023. Instead, my mind found its way to language. What has been the language of 2023?

I find language an utterly fascinating topic (yes – I am a real funmesiter at parties). New words and phrases continually find their way into existence and some die on the vine while others make their way into common parlance.

Here are some words and expressions I have learned over the last 12 months. These are all expressions that previously meant nothing to a soon to be 50-year-old pot stirrer, but form a part of my kids’ everyday vernacular.

  • POG: my 18-year-old son says this word (rhymes with log) when something good happens. It refers to his gaming world where the POG is the “play of the game”. I would have used the word “cool” instead.

  • Get In The Bin: an exclamation of excitement – think Leyton Hewitt playing tennis and screaming Come On with that silly hand gesture to his forehead.

  • Slay: As in you slay, it slays, or just plain old slay. It means awesome or that something is next level. Girls tend to use it more often than guys do.

  • Vibes: used in so many different ways. Someone my age could make sense of this word in that it refers to the energy or broader atmosphere but “it’s a vibe” is pretty mainstream now and almost goes back to the 60s or early 70s (before I was born).

  • HSP: My kids don’t pop down to the store to get a burger, pie, or a couple of dimmies and potato cakes (or potato scallops as you unusual Sydneysiders call them). Their junk food of choice is the HSP – the Halal Snack Pack (doner-kebab meat and chips). If you didn’t already know, religion plays zero part of its appeal.

What are the business words of 2023? I guess the answer to this question depends on one’s starting point and will be different for everyone, but here are a few of mine…

  • AI: Must be the #1 candidate for word of the year. Will 2023 be the year that future beings travel back in time to stave off ChatGPT and the explosion of hype that will lead to either global destruction or salvation, depending on your point of view. Either way, AI is one of my words of the year, and probably one of yours.

  • Data Breach: Medibank, Optus, Latitude… and yes, I know that this was a 2022 phenomenon, but it feels like the implications have scared the socks off Boards and taken up quite a bit of airtime in 2023’s corridors of power.

  • Sustainability: No… I am not late to the table. I believe that global warming presents as an existential crisis to our species, and many of my friends and colleagues feel exactly the same way. However, it seems to me that 2023 represented the first time that corporate Australia interpreted sustainability to be “our problem” and not just “everyone else’s problem”.

  • Ecosystem: My tip is that this word will be the 'AI' of 2030. I just happen to be an early adopter because I had the immense fortune of hearing Greg Bernarda talk about the role ecosystems will play in creating “upruption” (his own word) where industries collaborate beyond zero sum gain and everyone wins. Hearing Greg talk was probably my biggest a-ha moment for the year and I can’t stop thinking ecosystems in every client situation.

  • Explore & Exploit: Not new words, in that my partner Fred Etiemble and his co-authors penned The Invincible Company in 2021, but definitely words that I didn’t anticipate using as often this year as I have. I regularly talk about the difference between complicated and complex problems, but some of our clients have really resonated with thinking about 2 distinct operating models – one for their exploit portfolio and one for explore.

  • Purpose: Again, not a new word in business but one that I perhaps paid lip service to in previous years. Maybe purpose is one of those words which has binary implications… you use it when you have it and ignore it when you don’t. I found purpose this year, or more accurately, one of my business partners David Pountney helped me crystallise it. Like when I was a 16-year-old with my first girlfriend, I now want to proclaim purpose to the world.

  • Not Here To F*ck Spiders: This expression could have sat up above in that I heard it for the first time this year, but my kids don’t use it and we at Vibrance do so it appears here as a business term. Apparently, the expression is quintessentially Australian and is all about showing up and getting sh*t done, something I think we should all be embracing in 2024.

  • Realise Different: It is only 2 words, but clarity of why I go to work each day has been a game changer for me. It’s amazing what happens when you have a north star that informs what work you accept, the way you structure engagements, how you make line ball decisions, who you hire and how you grow your business.

What are your words for 2023, and what do they say about your past year and what lies ahead for 2024?


Sahil Merchant

A proven entrepreneur, an innovator, and an expert in helping large corporates realise a step change in growth.


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