November 25, 2019

Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year is “climate emergency”


Drumroll please: Oxford Dictionary has announced its word of the year and it is … “climate emergency.”  Oxford defines “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.” 

According to Oxford, the word of the year is “a word or expression shown through usage evidence to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, and have lasting potential as a term of cultural significance.” Considering that climate change disasters happened at the rate of one per week in 2019, we’d say that “climate emergency” is more than deserving of its 2019 title. 

Oxford took two major points into consideration when choosing “climate emergency” as the word of the year. One, the increase in public awareness of our changing ecosystem; and two, “a demonstrable escalation in the language people are using to articulate information and ideas concerning the climate.” 

The Oxford Corpus, Oxford’s research database, shows that the use of “climate emergency” increased throughout 2019, and was 100 times more commonly used by September than it was in 2018. Not only that, but this usage, according to Oxford, signifies a new use of the word “emergency.” 

Perhaps not a coincidence, all of the words on Oxford’s shortlist for Word of the Year were climate-related: “climate action,” “climate denial,” “eco-anxiety,” “extinction” and “flight shame.” Katherine Connor Martin, an editor at Oxford Dictionaries, told the New York Times that, “When we were looking through the evidence, it was just clear that issues relating to the climate were running through all the different lexical items we were working with. It reflects it was a real preoccupation of the English-speaking world in 2019.”

Indeed. As we’ve reported, earlier this month Collins English Dictionary named “climate strike” their word of the year.  With more climate emergencies predicted for the future, and nothing being done to stop it, we don’t think the use of “climate emergency” will be going away anytime soon.



Stephanie DeLuca is the director of publicity at Melville House.