Every year the publisher of the august Oxford English Dictionary peers into the zeitgeist and selects a “word of the year” whose sudden appearance or rising popularity tells us something about our collective mood or obsessions. The last three, for instance, have been toxic, youthquake, and post-truth. Take from those what you will.
This year’s word — in actuality a phrase — is “climate emergency.” The publisher Oxford Dictionaries said the choice was prompted by a 100-fold increase in usage over the previous year, a rise that reflected the rising heat of environmental activism and the growing guilt and angst over our role in the problem.
Along with climate emergency, Oxford selected a short list of other environment-related terms whose usage also grew noticeably. That includes some that will seem familiar to many — climate action, climate denial, climate crisis, net zero, extinction, and plant-based — and others newer to the tongue — eco-anxiety, ecocide, flight shame, and global heating, whose usage soared 18,358 percent.
The Gazette asked several Harvard faculty members if they thought “climate emergency” the mots justes for 2019 or whether another word or phrase might better characterize how the English-speaking world is feeling about climate and the environment.