Oxford reveals Word of the Year 2019: Here’s why we should be very, very concerned

The Word of the Year 2019 and the contenders that didn’t make it were all climate-related.

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This year’s word, chosen by Oxford through usage evidence, is ‘Climate Emergency’.
Every year, the folks at Oxford, choose a ‘Word of the Year’, which is essentially an expression which has grabbed a significant amount of attention in the last 12 months and has become an important part of the public discourse. This year’s word, chosen by Oxford through usage evidence, is ‘Climate Emergency’.

Needless to say, the discourse around climate in the year 2019 became mainstream, thanks to the young climate activist, Greta Thunberg’’s speech at the UN Climate Action Summit going viral. While the speech received polarised reactions from the netizens, it did start a conversation about climate change like we had never seen before.

To credit Greta’s speech for the dramatic upsurge in the usage of the expression ‘Climate Emergency’ might sound unfair on some level. But the fact remains that the passionate, tear-jerking and well-articulated speech was covered massively by international media which did, on some level, help educate those unaware of the climate crisis and the impending doom.


The conversation starter: Young climate activist Greta Thunberg played a key role in starting a conversation around climate crisis.
The conversation starter: Young climate activist Greta Thunberg played a key role in starting a conversation around climate crisis.

As per the data collected in Oxford Corpus, a corpus containing over 2.1 billion words, the expression ‘Climate Emergency’, became 100 times more common than it was the previous year.

The increase in the usage of the word as per the graph, began in September 2019, which is coincidentally the same time around which Thunberg’s no-holds-barred speech went viral.

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This clearly shows that the state of climate crisis we are in, has left a mark on the consciousness of the common people.

However, the phrase ‘Climate Emergency’ is not the only phrase that was central to the discussions in the year 2019. Several other expressions, that were contending to be crowned the ‘Word of the Year’ in 2019, were also climate-related.

Some of these words were ‘climate action’ (actions taken to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases), ‘climate crisis’ (a situation where there is a high threat of irreversible changes to the global climate) and ‘climate denial’ (rejection of the fact that climate emergency is caused by human activity).

Due to ever-increasing environmental pollution, the mental health of young people is being adversely impacted.
Due to ever-increasing environmental pollution, the mental health of young people is being adversely impacted.

However, another interesting word that was a contender for ‘Word of the Year’ was ‘Eco-anxiety’. The Oxford website defined the term as “Extreme worry about current and future harm to the environment caused by human activity and climate change.”
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The increase in the usage of the term eco-anxiety is a clear indicator of the fact that climate emergency is impacting the mental health of young people. The Oxford website says that while the symptoms are the same as clinical anxiety, eco-anxiety is not considered a mental disorder by mental health professionals.

It won’t be wrong to conclude that climate change is adversely affecting not just the physical, but also the mental health of the young ones.
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On one hand, Word of the Year shows that conversations around climate change are becoming common, while on the other, it shows its adverse effects - which is probably why we should be very, very worried.

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(Text: Shannon Tellis)
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