Words of the year – 2019

There’s  variety of words of the year.

Oxford Languages:

The Word of the Year 2019 is


‘a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.’

Analysis of language data collected in the Oxford Corpus shows the rapid rise of climate emergency from relative obscurity to becoming one of the most prominent – and prominently debated – terms of 2019.

Runners up:

  • Climate action
    Actions taken by an individual, organization, or government  to reduce or counteract the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse  gases, in order to limit the effect of global warming on the earth’s climate
  • Climate crisis
    A situation  characterized by the threat of highly dangerous, irreversible changes to the  global climate
  • Climate denial
    The rejection of the proposition that climate change caused by human activity is occurring or that it constitutes a significant threat to human welfare and civilisation
  • Eco-anxiety
    Extreme worry about current and future harm to the environment caused by human activity and climate change
  • Ecocide
    Destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human action
  • Extinction
    The fact or process of a species, family, or other group of animals or plants becoming extinct
  • Flight shame
    A reluctance to travel by air, or discomfort at doing so, because of the damaging emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants by aircraft
  • Global heating
    A term adopted in place of ‘global warming’ to convey the seriousness of changes in the climate caused by human activity and the urgent need to address it
  • Net-zero
    A target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases produced by human activity, to be achieved by reducing emissions and implementing methods of absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere
  • Plant-based
    (Of food or a diet) consisting largely of vegetables, grains, pulses, or other foods derived from plants, rather than animal products

There’s  bit of  theme there. Obviously there has been substantially more interest in climate related issues this year.

Meriam Webster:


Our Word of the Year for 2019 is they. It reflects a surprising fact: even a basic term—a personal pronoun—can rise to the top of our data. Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.


  • Quid pro quo
    We define quid pro quo as “something given or received for something else,” and “a deal arranging a quid pro quo.” The literal translation from New Latin is “something for something.”
  • Impeach
    “to charge (a public official) before a competent tribunal with misconduct in office”
  • Crawdad
    Delia Owens, the first-time novelist whose Where the Crawdads Sing made it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list, was interviewed on CBS Sunday Morning, sending crawdad to the top of our searches with a spike of 1,200%.
    Crawdad is used mostly west of the Appalachians to refer to the aquatic animal that looks like a small lobster and lives in rivers and streams—that is, to what’s also known as a crawfish or crayfish.
  • Egrerious
    “conspicuously bad”
  • Clemency
    “willingness or ability to moderate the severity of a punishment (such as a sentence)” and “an act or instance of mercy, compassion, or forgiveness.”
  • The
    The Ohio State University filed a trademark application in August for the word the with the U.S. Patent Office, in order to protect new branding logos that emphasize the “The” that is part of the official (some say pretentious) name of the institution—and the spiked 500%.
  • Snitty
    Snitty flew to the top of the dictionary lookups in May, increasing by 150,000%, when Attorney General William Barr used the word to describe a letter sent to him by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
  • Tergiversation
    “evasion of straightforward action or clear-cut statement,” or “desertion of a cause, position, party, or faith”
  • Camp
    …what inspired the lookups: a gala event celebrating “Camp: Notes on Fashion,” the newly-opened fashion exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  • Exculpate
    The word exculpate is defined as “to clear from alleged fault or guilt.” It traces back to Latin culpa, meaning “blame,” also the source of culpable, which means “meriting condemnation or blame especially as wrong or harmful.”

That list looks very USA orientated.



“of or relating to existence” or

“concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual’s freely made choices.” First recorded by the early 1900s, this existential is related to existentialism, a philosophy that affirms our individual agency in making meaningful, authentic choices about our lives.

Notable among searches was existential, which we’ve chosen as our Word of the Year for 2019. It captures a sense of grappling with the survival—literally and figuratively—of our planet, our loved ones, our ways of life.

Runner-up word:


Searches for nonbinary itself trended throughout the year after several celebrities publicly identified themselves as nonbinary, including singer Sam Smith and Queer Eye star Jonathan Van Ness. So did searches about another area of increasing visibility and inclusion in culture in 2019: diversity of sexual orientation. The terms omnisexual and pansexual, which can express sexual attraction to or activity with people of any sexual orientation gender identity, trended, for example, after Bella Thorne shared about their sexuality in the media.

There is a local word of the year which is quite lame in comparison.

Public Address:

OK Boomer

Public Address readers have chosen “OK Boomer” as their Word of the Year for 2019, causing emergency support services to scramble in anticipation of a wave of injured feelings among New Zealanders over 55.

“I’m really terribly sorry this has happened and I just hope the system can cope with what’s coming as a result,” says Public Address owner Russell Brown. “I mean, you saw what happened after Chloe Swarbrick dropped an ‘OK Boomer’ in Parliament – it was carnage. There were feelings injuries recorded on the other side of the world!

“I implore those affected to please just stay in the house you own until someone can get to you – if there’s more than one, try and pick the one that renters aren’t living in. Please also be aware that if you run out of food there’s an 0800 number you can call and there’ll be someone on the line to explain to you what Uber Eats is.

“I’m technically possibly a Boomer myself, so I understand the pain and confusion people will be feeling over this. Just know that we’ll get through it together.”

That blurb is even more lame than the term, which was used once on Parliament and then got a bit of publicity in some parts of social media.

It’s a fairly petty and some say divisive word. Chloe just used it as an off the cuff retort in an exchange in Parliament, but it was picked up on and promoted by some who seemed to think it trendy to dump on a demographic.

  1. OK Boomer
  2. They Are Us
  3. Ihumātao
  4. Reeferendum
  5. As-Salaam-Alaykum
  6. Climate Emergency

This list isn’t representative of Aotearoa, it was suggested and discussed and voted on by a niche left wing blog so is derived quite differently than the major word companies of the world.

“This is an existential question for us, and our very survival as a culture and as a people is at stake”

Minister of Climate Change James Shaw has been at the COP24 conference in Poland (he is still there, having extended his stay in the hope that something might be decided). Anything agreed on will govern countries’ efforts in adhering to their commitments under the Paris Agreement.

RNZ – Climate talks: ‘The levels of concern are so different’ – Shaw

One of the sticking points is whether efforts under the Kyoto Protocol will count towards Paris. Essentially, countries can’t agree on how they’ll count their greenhouse gas emissions, or their efforts to reduce them.

Mr Shaw told reporters this morning these were technical matters negotiators had been grappling with for three years. “Frankly, they should’ve gotten past that kind of detail before all the ministers showed up for the final three days,” he said.

Broadly speaking, Mr Shaw said a big frustration for him was the differences in countries’ commitments to fighting the effects of climate change.

“On one side you’ve got countries who are saying that they want a set of rules that are quite permissive and lets them do things, because they’re worried about the potential impact on their Gross Domestic Product.

“On the other hand, you’ve got a group of countries who are saying ‘this is an existential question for us, and our very survival as a culture and as a people is at stake’.”

That’s a big statement. perhaps Shaw is right, or maybe he just believes that everyone has to change to his way of thinking and living or they are doomed. It’s a bit like a religious thing – if you don’t believe in Green heaven you will go to hell.