November 8, 2019

“Climate strike” is chosen as 2019’s word of the year


Photo of the March 15, 2019, San Francisco Youth Climate Strike by Marti Johnson [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Last year we wrote about the annual tradition that is Collins English Dictionary word of the year, as chosen by lexicographers since 2013.

Following on from last year’s winner “single-use,” another environmental term has been chosen in 2019: “climate strike.” According to Collins’ database of language, the Collins Corpus, use of the word increased 100-fold between 2018 and 2019. The first use took place in Paris in 2015 when a mass demonstration happened during the UN climate change conference, but it really took off in 2018 thanks to Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Collins explain on their blog:

This was the year Greta Thunberg became a superstar, spreading her call for climate action around the world—whether through appearances at international gatherings, or by popularising the tactic of striking to draw attention to the cause. For her that meant missing classes, under the slogan skolstrejk för klimatet (Swedish for “school strike for the climate”). For others it meant stopping work—with an estimated 6 million people, young and old, participating in September’s global climate strike.

Helen Newstead, language content consultant at Collins, said, as reported by Mark Chandler at The Bookseller:

“It seems an age since we had more light-hearted words of the year such as ‘bingewatch’ and ‘photobomb,’ but the politically charged atmosphere of recent years is clearly driving our language, bringing new words to the fore and giving new meanings and nuance to older ones.

“Climate strikes can often divide opinion, but they have been inescapable this last year and have even driven a former word of the year, ‘Brexit’ from the top of the news agenda, if only for a short time.”


The other words on the shortlist were, in general, seemingly positive, reflecting society’s want and need for positive change and acceptance, including:

The only word with real negative connotations on the shortlist was deepfake, a technique by which a digital image or video can be superimposed onto another, which maintains the appearance of an unedited image or video, hence fooling the viewer.

While Brexit may not have influenced this year’s top word, it’s overwhelming and looming presence had to be acknowledged, and to this effect Collins have produced a Brexicon: a guide to terms relating specifically to Brexit. This includes:

Newstead commented on the Brexicon:

“The dictionary has no opinion on Brexit, other than to say it has been quite generous in its gifts to the English language, as well as I am sure inspiring the use of many old-fashioned expletives. The Brexicon could be even longer, but we feel our selection sums up many of the key themes since Collins named ‘Brexit’ Word of the Year in 2016. As the process continues through this latest ‘flextension,’ no doubt more words will emerge until we come to a ‘Brexend’.”

If we ever reach Brexend…



Nikki Griffiths is the managing director of Melville House UK.