The term climate emergency has been declared the ‘word of the year’ by Oxford Dictionaries after its usage soared by over 10,000 percent in 2019. Oxford claimed it has become ‘one of the most prominent and debated terms of 2019’, defining the climate emergency as ‘a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it’. Data produced by the group claimed that usage had risen by 10,796 percent, with it claiming that the decision to name it as word of the year focused on the language we use to describe the environment and the condition it is in.
However, it’s not the first time the environment has crept into first place on Oxford’s Word of the Year. In 2007, the publishing house selected “carbon footprint” as the U.K.’s winner, while “carbon-neutral” was Word of the Year in the U.S. for 2006. What makes this time special, Oxford says, is the use of the word ‘emergency.’ Previously, emergency was more often prefaced with words like health, hospital or family while climate virtually never made a pairing. This year, climate + emergency was three times more common than other formulae and, in case you’re wondering, the definition is given as:
“A situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.”
“Climate emergency” beat the words “climate crisis”, “climate action”, “climate denial”, “extinction”, “flight shame”, “global heating” and “plant-based”, which were on the shortlist. The dictionary’s word of the year is chosen to “reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year” and should have “lasting potential as a term of cultural significance”. “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,” Oxford said.