“Existential” is Dictionary.com’s 2019 Word Of the Year, the organization announced Monday. The word won out over other crisis-themed words and phrases including “polar vortex,” “stochastic terrorism” and “exonerate.”
“It captures a sense of grappling with the survival — literally and figuratively — of our planet, our loved ones, our ways of life,” Dictionary.com wrote in a post announcing the choice. “But, existential also inspires us to ask big questions about who we are and what our purpose is in the face of our various challenges — and it reminds us that we can make choices about our lives in how we answer those questions.”
Existential has two meanings: “Of or relating to existence” and “concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual’s freely made choices.” The word was primarily searched in conjunction with climate change, gun violence and democratic institutions, Dictionary.com said.
Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders helped searches for existential jump 179% when he said that climate change is “an existential crisis that impacts not just you and me and our generation but our kids and our grandchildren” at a February town hall, according to the website. Searches also spiked during natural disasters including Hurricane Dorian, fires in the Amazon rainforest, and an earthquake in Albania.
Vice President Joe Biden also gave the word a boost when he said that President Donald Trump “is literally an existential threat to America.”
But despite the word’s negative connotations, Dictionary.com said that “existential” has also helped the nation cope. It opened the post with a nod to “Toy Story 4,” in which a spork named Forky has an existential crisis.
“Forky’s existential crisis resonates with audiences because we all think at one time or another, ‘What is my purpose in life?'” “Toy Story 4” director Josh Cooley told Dictionary.com. “Examining what it means to be alive through the googly eyes of a disposable utensil, used for soup, salad, or maybe chili, has us questioning our purpose beyond what we think we are and what we can be. The food is just the metaphor, but Forky’s journey is our journey, and he reminds us not to throw ourselves away!”