Climate emergency’ has been declared ‘word of the year’ after experts found the use of the term increased by over 10,000 per cent in the last 12 months.
Oxford Dictionaries said the phrase soared from ‘relative obscurity’ to ‘one of the most prominent and prominently debated terms of 2019.’
They defined the phrase as ‘a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it’.
According to the dictionary’s data, usage of ‘climate emergency’ soared hundred-fold, or 10,796%, from 2018.
High profile activists such as teenager Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have pushed climate crisis firmly on the national agenda.
Oxford Dictionaries said the choice reflected not only the rise in climate awareness, but the focus specifically on the language we use to discuss it.
2019 saw ‘climate’ become the most common word associated with ‘emergency’ in public discourse.
Oxford said the use of ‘climate emergency’ as opposed to ‘climate change’ reflected a conscious push towards language of immediacy and urgency.
The selection panel said: ‘In 2018, climate did not feature in the top words typically used to modify emergency, instead the top types of emergencies people wrote about were health, hospital, and family emergencies.
‘But with climate emergency, we see something new, an extension of emergency to the global level.’
Hundreds of cities, towns and even countries have declared climate emergencies’ during 2019.
The UK parliament declared one in May, a month after Extinction Rebellion protesters glued themselves to trains and brought parts of central London to a standstill to protest the government’s lack of action on the matter.
Canada, France and Sydney in Australia have also declared climate emergencies.
The Word of the Year started in 1971 and is chosen to ‘reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year’.
Oxford say the chosen word should have a ‘lasting cultural impact’, with previous winners including ‘toxic’ and ‘youthquake’.
‘Climate emergency’ beat the words ‘climate crisis’, ‘climate action’ ‘climate denial’, ‘extinction’ and ‘plant-based’, which were on the shortlist.
Linguists say two words can count as one word when ”single words consist of two parts’.
Explaining their decision, an Oxford spokesperson said: ‘In 2019, climate emergency surpassed all of those other types of emergency to become the most written about emergency by a huge margin, with over three times the usage frequency of health, the second-ranking word’.