Dictionary.com chooses ‘existential’ as word of the year

Updated December 03, 2019


This Sunday, Dec 1, photo shows the word "existential" in a dictionary in the Brooklyn borough of New York. — AP
This Sunday, Dec 1, photo shows the word "existential" in a dictionary in the Brooklyn borough of New York. — AP

NEW YORK: Climate change, gun violence, the very nature of democracy and an angsty little movie star called Forky helped propel existential to Dictionary.com’s word of the year.

The choice reflects months of high-stakes threats and crises, real and pondered, across the news, the world and throughout 2019.

“In our data, it speaks to this sense of grappling with our survival, both literally and figuratively, that defined so much of the discourse,” said John Kelly, senior research editor for the site, ahead of the announcement.

The word earned “top of mind awareness” in sustained searches at Dictionary.com in the aftermath of wildfires and Hurricane Dorian, and mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas. It also reared itself in presidential politics and pop culture.

Oxford Dictionaries picked climate emergency as its word of the year, noting usage evidence that reflects the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year, the company said in a statement.

Dictionary.com crunches lookup and other data to decide which word to anoint each year. The site has been picking a word of the year since 2010.

Among search spikes for ‘existential’ were those that occurred after both Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders and 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg characterised climate change as an existential crisis, Kelly said.

Another spike occurred when former vice president Joe Biden, also vying for the Democratic presidential nod, painted President Donald Trump as an existential threat to decency.

The word dates to 1685, deriving from Late Latin’s existentialis. Dictionary.com defines existential as of or relating to existence and of, relating to, or characteristic of philosophical existentialism; concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individuals freely made choices.

Published in Dawn, December 3rd, 2019