Oxford Dictionary declares 'climate emergency' as Word of the Year for 2019

The word was selected from a list of 10 other words and is thought to reflect the ethos and mood of the passing year


Oxford Dictionary has declared ‘climate emergency’ as the word of the year for 2019 because it believes that the word ‘reflects the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year’.

According to the dictionary, climate emergency is defined as ‘a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.’ It was selected from a list of 10 words which included, climate action, climate crisis, climate denial, eco-anxiety, ecocide, extinction, flight shame, global heating, net-zero and plant-based.

In 2018, the word 'emergency' was usually written after other words like health, hospital and family. However, over the course of this year, the word climate emergency came out from sudden obscurity into the spotlight. It has gone on to become the most “prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019.” By September 2019, it was 100 times more common than it had been the last year.

 Oxford Dictionary declares climate emergency as Word of the Year for 2019

The graph shows the increase in the use of the word climate emergency. Image credit: Oxford

Awareness about climate change and related emergency was felt all throughout the year. There have been multiple movements and protests about the inaction of governments with regard to climate change, globally. The protests were led predominantly by 16- year old climate activist Greta Thunberg and other children who have been walking out of their schools to take part in global strikes on Fridays which are popularly known as Fridays For Future strikes.

That's not all. A group of 16 climate activists, ages 8 to 17 even filed a lawsuit against five countries as they have not kept to their obligations to tackle climate change and have failed to solve the crisis which they believe constitutes the violation of children’s rights.

16 children including Greta Thunberg have filed a landmark complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

16 children including Greta Thunberg have filed a landmark complaint to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

There have also been different reports released by the IPCC that talks about the ocean and land use and conferences have been held to talk about the climate crisis that we are currently facing.

The 2015 Paris Agreement was signed by 196 states plus the European Union and will be reviewed at the COP25 that will be held in Madrid, Spain. Many countries, from the United Kingdom and Scotland to Canada and New Zealand, have also declared a climate emergency.

According to the press release by Oxford dictionary, the word received a further impetus when The Guardian, in May, said that they will use the term climate emergency instead of climate change to indicate the severity of the situation. This move also encouraged other newspapers to make the shift. The editor in chief Katharine Viner said, "We want to ensure that we are being scientifically precise, while also communicating clearly with readers on this very important issue. The phrase “climate change”, for example, sounds rather passive and gentle when what scientists are talking about is a catastrophe for humanity.’

Previous choices for the word of the year included “toxic” in 2018 and “youthquake” in 2017.


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