Madrigal word of the year 2023 – FEMWASHING

What is a word of the year?

Over the last few weeks the world’s dictionaries have announced their words of the year (WOTY). The results have not been that exciting. Most have honed in on the big advances in artificial intelligence and its associated vocabulary. The Macquarie chose cozzie liv, leaving everybody a bit cold; while the OED went for rizz leaving the baby boomers scratching their heads.

Madrigal monitors and blogs about words. Due to our luke warm excitement to the dictionaries’ choices of WOTY we thought we would have a Madrigal word of the year 2023 (WOTY23) for the first time.

Our approach to choosing our word of the year is quite different to the dictionaries. It is not based on usage nor on newness. Our choice is based on relevance and meaning.

We are not on the search for new words over the year but we do try to look at events and how they relate to the world of words. For instance, one of our runners up is “chunder”, its relevance to this year is that its existence in Australian culture owes very much to Barry Humphries who died in April.

Madrigal word of the year 2023

One of our key themes is always on how words are used to influence people. The power of words is a lot stronger that most people realise or understand. Marketing people and corporate and government public relations departments are always attempting to shift perceptions to support their agendas. This used to be called propaganda, now it is called stakeholder communication strategy, promotion, publicity, political advertising or other such things.

During the year we looked at agnotology—the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt—but although we loved its existence it doesn’t have much resonance in the wider world.

We also looked at greenwashing this year, when the ACCC announced they would crack down on the practice. However, it had had a lot of interest in 2021-22 so it is not news. In a similar vein we looked at bowdlerisation after Roald Dahl’s books were modified by the publishers to make them nicer (oh what a bland world we would live in).

Madrigal word of the year 2023 is femwashing

Our winner is femwashing. In a year that has seen the Voice referendum overturned, greenwashing called out by the ACCC, and the bowdlerisation of Dahl, we think there is a strong undercurrent of deceit in the way social movements are being portrayed.

In March around International Women’s Day accusations of femwashing were rampant. It is a newer concept that parallels greenwashing with feminism.

Femwashing refers to the false claims of companies to increase their reputational standing that women’s rights and gender equality are central to their culture and values. In reality, the companies does not care or act on gender equality. There are a few other terms being used to describe this including purplewashing and femvertising. They are not definitive and overlap with other “diversity-washing” agendas such as “pinkwashing” which is the LGBTQ+ equivalent.

Madrigal word of the year 2023 shortlist

These are the words that have the most meaning in 2023. Our shortlist was …


Australian comedian, Barry Humphries died this year (22 April 2023). I had often wished that we had seen more of Humphries and less of Dame Edna Everage, but now they are all gone. His writing was masterful and he was an aficionado of the Australian vernacular language. A memorial to Humphries’ life will be the cementing of chunder into the Australian lexicon.

Greenwashing & wishcycling

The ACCC announced in March that it would crack down on greenwashing after a survey found more than half the companies they looked at had made misleading statements ranging from overstating climate action to developing their own certification schemes. However, greenwashing has had a good airing in previous years so although highly relevant to 2023 it is already had its day.

Artificial intelligence

We looked at artificial intelligence (AI) at the very beginning of the year. The term was first coined in 1956 by John McCarthy when he organised a conference at which he defined AI as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines.” It has dominated our thinking this year and will continue for the next few years to change how things are done (such as writing).


A literary and media furore erupted in the UK in February about censorship of Roald Dahl’s children’s books by Puffin Books. The latest editions of Dahl’s books had had some of the passages relating to weight, mental health, gender and race altered. This process of changing a piece of literature to make it supposedly less objectionable or offensive is bowdlerisation, a puritanical form of censorship which is coming back into our lives through the cancel culture.


In July an online BBC film review on the latest Indiana Jones film was headlined—”Does Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny mark the era of the flopbuster?” Flopbuster is a new word that combines the words “flop” and “blockbuster” (i.e. a portmanteau word).

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny, had had a disappointing start at the box office earning AUD$190 million globally during its opening weekend. This did not provide enough payback to its massive budget of AUD$430 million (excluding marketing costs). Variety magazine described it as “one of the most expensive movies ever”. Another news platform suggested it is “… destined to live in a Temple of Box Office Doom“.


2023 offers many new career choices other than working in AI. A petfluencer is obviously a pet influencer—someone who gains a large following on social media by posting entertaining images or videos of their cat, dog, or other pet. Your animal gains a large following on social media by appearing regularly in pictures or video posted by its owner, enhanced with captions, music, and voiceovers, etc. Important word to remember.


In the media reports on the aftermath of the earthquake that devastated Syria and Turkey in February 2023, you may have noticed that most news channels were using Türkiye for the country’s name. It has joined a swathe of other rebranding countries that have changed their name in a move to shift perceptions. It is usually a difference between what the residents call their country in their own language—an ENDONYM—and the name that people abroad give to the country—an EXONYM

Sudden Russian Death Syndrome

Putin starred in our first post of the year which was really something from 2022 on the last day of 2022 that dubbed a series of ostensibly accidental deaths and suicides of high-profile Russians, Sudden Russian Death Syndrome. Many of them are dubbed modern-day defenestrations. It has continued unabated in 2023 but few have much sympathy for Russian oligarchs and generals who have been turned on the master that they supported so it has had little profile.

Madrigal word of the year 2023 honourable mentions

There were other words that we thought were relevant to 2023. However they were either carried over from 2023 or reflected our particular interpretation of events and not those of the wider community.

Rugby tragic

The Australian team, the Wallabies, were knocked out of the Rugby World Cup. They went in as underdogs but some diehard Australian rugby fans still believed we has a chance under our reincarnated super-coach, Eddie Jones. These people are rugby tragics and I am one of them. A rugby tragic has a deep emotional connection to rugby and may display extreme enthusiasm, to the point of prioritising rugby over other aspects of our lives. Australia’s performance was worse than anybody expected (see disaster). Australian rugby has sunk to its lowest nadir and the Australian rugby tragic felt exactly that way.


Agnotology is a new area of science that studies culturally induced ignorance or doubt, particularly the publication of inaccurate or misleading scientific data. Although the word has been around for 25 years the concept, in the modern world of misinformation and mistruths it is an increasingly important concept.


Sixty years ago this year at 5:15 pm on 23 November 1963, the first episode of Doctor Who was broadcast on BBC One. It was delayed a few minutes because of the announcement of John F Kennedy’s assassination. I was a two and a half year old living in Guisborough, a small town in northern Yorkshire, England. As a lifetime Whovian, I don’t know if I watched that episode but I do know that some of my earliest memories of television are of Doctor Who. There were several Australians involved in its creation.


In May we had the coronation of King Charles III. Some suggested that we have just left the Elizabethan era and are about to a Carolingian era. Its not really right and people are confusing what it means. Carolingian is derived from the Medieval Latin “Carolus” for Charles. It historically refers to the kings descended from Charles Martel (Charles the Hammer c686 to 741 AD), a Frankish military leader. Charles III, a quite gentle man, is part of the House of Windsor and is not a Carolingian. The only way he is ever going to get the soubriquet “The Hammer” is for a bit of DIY around Buckingham Palace.

For all the words we looked at in the Madrigal word of the year 2023 try our word of the week blog page.