Oxford names 'climate emergency' its 2019 'Word of the Year'

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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Amid historic flooding in Venice, Italy, and catastrophic bushfires decimating Australia's koala population, Oxford has named its 2019 Word of the Year "climate emergency."

The historical dictionary of the English language defined "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."

Oxford said its selected words or phrases "reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year," and this year, heightened awareness of climate science and its implications have generated tremendous debate.

By September 2019, the phrase was 100 times as common as it had been the previous year, according to a language data analysis.

Although discussions surrounding "climate" are not new, the use of the word paired with "emergency" has trended recently. Previously, the use of "emergency" signified danger at a personal level, such as "family emergency," but this emerging phrasing extends it to a global level.

"This data is significant because it indicates a growing shift in people's language choice in 2019, a conscious intensification that challenges accepted language use to reframe discussion of 'the defining issue of our time' with a new gravity and greater immediacy," Oxford Dictionaries said in a statement.

While "climate emergency" leads the pack, the Word of the Year shortlist reflects the wider climate-related discussion. These words include "climate action," "climate crisis," "climate denial," and "eco-anxiety."

Previous Words of the Year include "toxic," "youthquake," "post-truth," and "vape," and in 2015, "Face with Tears of Joy" emoji.