ENTERTAINMENT

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

Dec 2, 2019, 7:51 AM
This Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019, photo shows the word "existential" in a dictionary in the Brooklyn borou...
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)
(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.”

Today’s Top Stories

Entertainment

Salt Lake County is working to make sure its golf courses don't use as much water in the drought....
Martha Harris

Salt Lake County says it has decreased water-use on its golf courses

Salt Lake County says it has back water usage on its golf courses. The county says it has done by changing how they water.
2 days ago
Fireworks light up the night sky over Liberty Park Thursday July 24, 2003 Photo by Scott G Winterto...
Mark Jackson

Fireworks and some open flames are now banned in Park City

Just before the holiday weekend, Park City has banned fireworks and non-permitted open flames due to extreme drought conditions and fire risk.
2 days ago
Vehicles enter Zion National Park   on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. With Independence Day set for Mond...
Mark Jones

Busy weekend expected at Zion National Park

With it being Independence Day on Monday, Zion National Park officials are expecting a busy weekend at the park and say visitors should expect long lines.
3 days ago
The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival will make its in-person comeback from July 28 to Aug. 7. Courte...
Devin Oldroyd

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival is coming back to Salt Lake City

The Great Salt Lake Fringe Festival will make its in-person comeback from July 28 to Aug. 7.
3 days ago
Utah's Hogle Zoo welcomes a new red panda, Priya, to its Asian Highlands exhibit. Photo credit: Uta...
Devin Oldroyd

Hogle Zoo welcomes new Red Panda in effort to conserve the species

Utah's Hogle Zoo welcomes a new red panda, Priya, to its Asian Highlands exhibit. It hopes to breed her with Mow Mow, a red panda currently living there.
3 days ago
The Path of Art explores artists lives....
Ryan Meeks

New podcast aims to bring awareness about Utah’s artists, creatives

KSL Podcasts is launching a new podcast, The Path of Art, to share the stories of artists, comedians, performers, and more. Listen to the first episode here.
4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Tax Harassment...
Jordan Wilcox

The best strategies for dealing with IRS tax harassment | You have options!

Learn how to deal with IRS tax harassment. This guide will teach you how to stop IRS phone calls and letters, and how to handle an IRS audit.
spend a day at Bear Lake...
Bear Lake Convention and Visitors Bureau

You’ll love spending the day at Bear Lake | How to spend a day at Bear Lake

Bear Lake is a place that needs to be experienced. Spend a day at Bear Lake.
Curb Appeal...
Price's Guaranteed Doors

How to have the best of both worlds for your house | Home security and curb appeal

Protect your home and improve its curb appeal with the latest security solutions like beautiful garage doors and increased security systems.
Prescription opioids can be disposed of during National Prescription Take Back Day...
Know Your Script

Prescription opioid misuse | How to protect your family from the opioid epidemic

Studies have shown that prescription opioid misuse has increased since COVID-19. So what do you need to know about these opioids?
national heart month...
Intermountain Healthcare

National Heart Month: 5 Lifestyle Changes to Make Today to Keep You Heart Healthy

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. One person dies every 36 seconds in the United States from cardiovascular disease
Joseph Smith Memorial Building...
Temple Square

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building is an icon of Salt Lake City | Why hosting an event at this beautiful location will make you a hero this year

Here's why hosting an event at the iconic Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City will make you a hero this year.
Dictionary.com chooses `existential’ as word of the year