Word of the year: exhaustion

Published 5:01 pm Friday, December 27, 2019

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Every December, several English language dictionaries celebrate the past 12 months by announcing their “word of the year.” It’s hard to condense a whole year of politics, scandals, good deeds, violence, scientific breakthroughs, and whatever else happened down to just one word, but they manage to keep doing it.

Most simply choose a word that’s been searched for a lot in their dictionary. That word represents what’s on a lot of people’s minds and what they’re curious about. Perhaps it’s a word that many people talk about around the proverbial water cooler.

So what did everyone pick to represent 2019? I couldn’t even begin to guess. This whole year has been a blur to me that I’m not even sure whether something happened this year or last year!

Oxford Dictionaries selected “climate emergency” for 2019 (which I would like to note, for the record, is technically two words compounded together). Considering how much discussion people have generated about climate change in the past year, this isn’t actually a bad choice for 2019, I think. Oxford Dictionaries noted an increase in conversation about climate so much that their runner-up words were also climate-related. Those include “climate crisis,” “climate denial,” “eco-anxiety,” and “extinction.”

That all feels pretty dire, and they’re not the only dictionary who picked a climate related word.

The Collins Dictionary chose “climate strike” as their 2019 word after seeing a “one-hundred-fold increase in its usage” this year. They seem to trend towards environmentally-conscious words, since they also chose “single-use” in 2018.

I guess “climate strike” might have been the best option for Collins to pick because their shortlist contained plenty of words I’ve never even heard of. Words like “bopo” and “rewilding” and “hopepunk???”

Merriam-Webster gives us a change of pace, however, by picking “they” as their word of the year. Yes, the pronoun we’re all pretty familiar with. The dictionary said lookups for “they” increased by over 300 percent this year, and that’s mostly because people are starting to use it as a “nonbinary” pronoun for people who don’t identify with either gender.

But personally, I think the best choice for Word of the Year comes from Dictionary.com this year. It’s “existential,” which means simply “of or relating to existence.” The dictionary explains that the word “captures a sense of grappling with the survival—literally and figuratively—of our planet, our loved ones, our ways of life. Existential also inspires us to ask big questions about who we are.”

Existential is probably a good word to pick any year just because of how chaotic human life constantly is. Some example quotes in the article refer to things like the Hong Kong protests, Brexit, and the Notre Dame fire just this year.

Dictionary.com also notes that “existential” is their word to close out the decade. So I guess it’s extra fitting.

As for me, I also like to pick my own personal word to represent my past year. This year I’m choosing “exhaustion.”

It’s not the most positive-sounding word, but I think it’s the most accurate. It’s been a busier-than-usual year for me both at work and at home. And sometimes, in my quest to always be productive, I forget to give myself a break. So the exhaustion just piles up, and I tend to spend my free time just trying to sleep more.

But acknowledging that exhaustion is my word for 2019 can be helpful too. January is right around the corner, and so are New Years resolutions. It’s the perfect time to reflect on my time management skills and make a plan for resting better next year. I don’t want next year’s word to be “burnout” after all!

So what is your personal Word of the Year?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.