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

National

This Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, photo shows the word “existential” in a dictionary in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Dictionary.com picked “existential” as the 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. (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

NEW YORK (AP) — 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 Monday’s 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, including Forky the white plastic spork who was the breakout star of “Toy Story 4.”

The soiled utensil is convinced his destiny is in the trash, until he embraces his purpose as a treasured toy of kindergartener Bonnie.

“Forky underscores how this sense of grappling can also inspire us to ask big questions about who we are, about our purpose,” Kelly told The Associated Press.

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 characterized 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 individual’s freely made choices.”

Enter Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel and Jean-Paul Sartre, thinkers who molded and embraced existentialism, among other movements.

Climate, guns and the impeachment crisis for Donald Trump were just a few areas that seemed to frame debate in existential terms. So did the Hong Kong protests, the Notre Dame fire, tensions between the United States and China, and Big Tech’s privacy and fake news problems.

“We started to see existential in the dialogue beginning in January and all the way through the year,” said Jennifer Steeves-Kiss, Dictionary.com’s chief executive officer. “This is a consistent theme that we saw in our data, but it also was leveraged across many different important questions of our time.”

As for Forky, his journey from disposable utensil to handmade toy points to the concept of “agency,” Kelly said, referring to the power to direct our own existences. That, he said, affords us the “opportunity to turn existential threats into existential choices.”

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Clear

Abbeville

59°F Clear Feels like 59°
Wind
5 mph SE
Humidity
93%
Sunrise
Sunset

Tonight

Partly cloudy skies. Low 57F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
60°F Partly cloudy skies. Low 57F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
Wind
5 mph S
Precip
10%
Sunset
Moon Phase
Waxing Gibbous
Overcast

Crowley

61°F Overcast Feels like 61°
Wind
8 mph SSE
Humidity
96%
Sunrise
Sunset

Tonight

Partly cloudy skies this evening will become overcast overnight. Low 57F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
60°F Partly cloudy skies this evening will become overcast overnight. Low 57F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
Wind
6 mph S
Precip
20%
Sunset
Moon Phase
Waxing Gibbous
Clear

Opelousas

57°F Clear Feels like 57°
Wind
9 mph SE
Humidity
90%
Sunrise
Sunset

Tonight

Partly cloudy skies early will give way to cloudy skies late. Low 56F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
60°F Partly cloudy skies early will give way to cloudy skies late. Low 56F. Winds S at 5 to 10 mph.
Wind
8 mph S
Precip
20%
Sunset
Moon Phase
Waxing Gibbous
Clear

Breaux Bridge

58°F Clear Feels like 58°
Wind
5 mph SSE
Humidity
87%
Sunrise
Sunset

Tonight

Partly cloudy this evening, then becoming cloudy after midnight. Low 56F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.
60°F Partly cloudy this evening, then becoming cloudy after midnight. Low 56F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.
Wind
6 mph S
Precip
20%
Sunset
Moon Phase
Waxing Gibbous
Clear

New Iberia

56°F Clear Feels like 56°
Wind
6 mph SSE
Humidity
100%
Sunrise
Sunset

Tonight

Mostly clear skies this evening will become overcast overnight. Low near 55F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.
57°F Mostly clear skies this evening will become overcast overnight. Low near 55F. Winds SSE at 5 to 10 mph.
Wind
7 mph SSE
Precip
20%
Sunset
Moon Phase
Waxing Gibbous

Local News

More Local

Sidebar

Trending Stories