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'Climate emergency' and 'climate strike' are crowned words of the year, and rightly so


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Call it the Greta Thunberg effect: 'climate emergency' has been named Oxford Dictionaries word of the year. What's more, it was crowned so from an all-environmental shortlist that also included words such as 'climate denial,''extinction' and 'flight shame.' Meanwhile earlier this month,'climate strike' was named Collins Dictionary's word of 2019. Of the ten words in contention, lexicographers (those are the people whose job it is to compile the dictionary) noted a 100% increase in the use of the term. Made famous by the Swedish environmentalist, 'climate strike' is defined by Collins as ‘a form of protest in which people absent themselves from education or work in order to join demonstrations demanding action to counter climate change’. 

Defined 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 the words soared from “relative obscurity” to “one of the most prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019.” According to the dictionary’s data, usage of “climate emergency” soared 10,796%.

Following on from 2018’s equally-environmental word of the year, single-use (in reference to plastic), our deployment of politicised language shows no sign of abating. Indeed, of the new words added to the various dictionaries this year, Brexit infiltrated the influx. Now exist related terms such as 'Brexiteer', 'Brexiety', 'prorogue', 'remainer', and 'milkshake' (verb), which - lest we forget - refers to the (judicious) Geordie who threw his milkshake at Farage while he was on the campaign trail. Ah, it was the very best of times.

IMAGE | shutterstock

Millennials hold a majority stake in the minting of new words, too. 'Whatevs', 'chillax', 'simples', and 'sumfin' all made it into the Oxford English Dictionary this year, alongside the demographic’s preferred sustenance: 'Aperol' and Hawaiian food export, 'poke'. And should said snowflakes - an OED introduction from 2018 - still fail to feel seen, 'nomophobia', which refers to the stress one feels when not in close proximity to their phone, is in there too. Surely the most millennial of malaises?

There’s always a bit of a tie-straightening kerfuffle when dictionaries announce additions and revisions. Naysayers, semantic snobs, and Jacob Rees Mogg (see his anachronistic language rules for more deets and lols), will say that colloquialisms, coinages, portmanteaus and the addition of that non-gender binary pronoun, mess with the sacrality of language. William Shakespeare and John Milton got off to a sterling and seismic start, and yes, we doff our caps to you, sirs, but language is mutating at a rate of knots and to not acknowledge it would be remiss. Or careless. Thoughtless. Slapdash. Indolent. Lackadaisical. I could go on.

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