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The Oxford Dictionary Has Declared ‘Climate Emergency’ the Word of the Year

The term's usage shot up 10,796 percent in 2019.
Shamani Joshi
Mumbai, IN
Climate emergency word of the year 2019
Photo by Kevin Snyman via Pixabay 

Maybe it’s something to do with the 11,000 scientists who've declared that the world is in a state of climate emergency. Maybe it’s due to the sheer number of forest fires and melting icecaps around the globe. Or maybe it’s because of children like Greta Thunberg who’ve spent the year striking for action on climate change. But the Oxford Dictionary just declared that “Climate Emergency” is their official 2019 word of the year.


According to judges, the Oxford Dictionary Word of the Year is one that best encompasses the prevailing mood, with the 2018 choice being "toxic" (a pretty apt description of that year). The Dictionary also defines a “climate emergency” as “a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage.” According to the people at Oxford, this term went from relative obscurity to “one of the most prominent—and prominently debated—terms of 2019,” with usage increasing by some 10,796 percent this year alone.

Judges also claim that the term isn’t just receiving more frequent usage, but that there's now an increased sense of urgency. In 2018, the word “emergency” was generally equated with concepts such as “health”, “hospital” and “family”, but in 2019 we saw a steep rise in the number of people associating "emergency" with the consequences of climate change.

“In 2019, climate emergency surpassed all of those other types of emergency to become the most written about emergency by a huge margin, with over three times the usage frequency of health, the second-ranking word,” The selection panel choosing the word on behalf of Oxford said.

Interestingly, the term “climate emergency” beat similar contenders like “climate crisis,” “climate action,” “climate denial,” “extinction,” “flight shame,” “global heating,” and “plant-based,” all of which appeared on the shortlist.

Now that we’re almost at the end of this carbon-ravaged year, let’s hope the Oxford Dictionary's nomination adds weight to the wave of concern “climate crisis” encompasses.

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