OPINION - Rizz: The word of the year is all about cheerful, carnal appeal — you can’t buy that

Tyler the Creator has an innate sense of charisma (Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)
Tyler the Creator has an innate sense of charisma (Kevin Winter/Getty Images for Coachella)

The most charismatic man I ever met was the LA rapper, musician, designer and generational hero, Tyler the Creator. I was shadowing him during a spring jaunt in Paris for the gentlemanly fashion magazine, Fantastic Man. He’d just won his first Grammy. Many of the loose collectives of scrappy, visionary hip-hop creatives and thinkers he once presided over, Odd Future, had turned their early teenage cult appeal into real world cultural weight.

By the end of that day, travelling arrondissement-to-arrondissement, I was so won over by his absorbing manner that I felt a tangible sadness exiting its glow to catch the last Eurostar. Quite honestly, he had me at hello. Some people just do. Charisma, I decided that day, is innate.

I was thinking about Tyler this week, when the Oxford University Press announced that their word of the year is “rizz”. Being the age and disposition I am, rizz took a little light online investigation to unpack. “Rizz is a colloquial word, defined as style, charm, or attractiveness; the ability to attract a romantic or sexual partner,” said the OUP.

The genesis of the word can be traced back to first usage by Kai Cenat, one of those Gen Z streaming stars who means everything to their millions of devoted online followers on social platforms Twitch and YouTube and very little to anyone over 21.

In the casual teenage vernacular, rizz is understood to be a shortened form of charisma, though Cenat has a better, more specific, situational explanation about it being the exact moment in the process of courtship when a potentially uninterested partner starts to switch. That’s rizz. Whichever etymology stands, it feels splendidly counterintuitive as the word of a pretty horrible year, one marked by suffering, misery, division and a free-floating sense of impending collapse.

Rizz arrives with a touch of carnal hopefulness to cheer us all up. I thought chatting up, pulling, copping off, all the ancient phraseology my generation once deployed for the simple preamble to mating had disappear into the dread, inert swipe of a phone screen.

I assumed online dating had lent the fabulous dance of opportunistic seduction all the romance of ordering in a Domino’s pizza

I assumed online dating had lent the fabulous dance of opportunistic seduction all the romance of ordering in a Domino’s pizza. Clearly, Tinder thought so, too, having just introduced a “Rizz First” feature, a clumsy tech giant’s boardroom manoeuvre to keep their loveless prescriptions for intimacy from irrelevance.

Apparently, the dance is back. Rizz intimates the flip of a human switch. It is the direct antithesis of Andrew Tate’s repugnant school of misogynist sex control peddled online.

Any gender can have rizz, but it feels specifically young, which courtship ought to. That rizz beat “Swifty” (Taylor Swift fans, a blamelessly rizz-averse demographic) to the OUP word of the year feels almost comically precise in its irony.

The arrival of rizz is the first signal that interacting with living people, face-to-face is making an unexpected comeback for 2024. That made me smile. Who knows? Maybe Tesco will clock onto the radical benefits of human interaction soon, ridding us of having to checkout our own groceries.

That Gen Z is even thinking about charisma is a gentle reminder that some wheels refuse to stop turning. Perhaps rizz could spread beyond its romantic ratio. Only the other day, I had a sharp reminder of Tyler the Creator’s intense charisma quotient while wandering through Soho, spotting his Golf Wang clothes store. A crowd of expectant, well-dressed teens, young lads hoping to acquire a bit of his magical aura, curiosity, style, talent, humour and charm were waiting patiently to be allowed in, to bask in the afterglow of it all. That felt a bit like rizz, too.

Where once emerging generations wanted most to be hot, funny, cool, activated politically or clever, there’s an old and new quality topping the list now. Rizz is unknowable yet instantly recognisable. For those of us happy just to stand in the shadow of it, reverberating from the deflected dazzle of someone else’s casually delivered amazingness, it might even be the most enviable characteristic of them all.

Beauty is a lottery. Cool takes graft, education, instinct and can come off a little cruelly. But charisma, whichever buzzy new way it arrives branded, implies an innate specialness delivered without arrogance. It can’t be wrapped up with a bow and placed beneath the Christmas tree. That’s why everyone wants a piece of it. Rizz isn’t just the word of the year, whatever the OUP says. It’s goals for life.

Paul Flynn is a columnist