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Word of the Year 2019 is Climate Emergency
21 November 2019
We have announced ‘climate emergency’ as Word of the Year 2019—a word or expression shown through evidence of its usage to reflect the ethos or mood of the passing year, with potential to have lasting cultural significance.
Climate emergency means ‘a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.’ This year, heightened public awareness of climate science and its implications has generated enormous discussion of what the UN Secretary-General called ‘the defining issue of our time.’
Research reveals a demonstrable escalation in the language people are using to articulate information and ideas concerning the climate. Language data collected in the Oxford Corpus shows a rapid rise in use of 'climate emergency' from relative obscurity to becoming one of the most prominently used and debated terms of 2019. By September, it had become more than 100 times as common as the previous year, and surpassed all of other types of emergency to become the most written about emergency by a wide margin, with more than three times the usage frequency of ‘health’, the second-ranking word. Statistically speaking, this represents a new trend in the use of the word ‘emergency’.
Other terms that made the shortlist based on their usage include climate crisis, climate action, climate denial, eco-anxiety, ecocide, extinction, and global heating.
Casper Grathwohl, President of Oxford Dictionaries, says, ‘This has been a fascinating year for the word “climate”, and we see that reflected especially in the way that English-speakers have combined it with other words. We are clearly struggling to articulate our climate anxiety. Language cannot seem to keep up with the accelerating sense of urgency around the issue, resulting in a rapidly evolving set of vocabulary with a new word vying for center stage at every turn. To reflect this, we’ve not only selected a climate-related word this year—our entire shortlist has been chosen exclusively from the rich climate language surrounding us. Together these words tell the story of a rising issue, and of a public debate attuned to the power of language.’