Our Word of the Year 2019 is . . . upcycling.
This word was chosen based on the Word of the Day that resonated most strongly with fans on the Cambridge Dictionary Instagram account, @CambridgeWords. The word upcycling – defined as the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material – received more likes than any other Word of the Day (it was shared on 4 July 2019).
We think that our fans resonated with upcycling not as a word in itself but with the positive idea behind it. Stopping the progression of climate change, let alone reversing it, can seem impossible at times. Upcycling is a concrete action a single human being can take to make a difference.
The number of times upcycling has been looked up on the Cambridge Dictionary website has risen by 181 per cent since December of 2011, when it was first added to the online dictionary, and searches have doubled in the last year alone. So it seems evident that lookups of upcycling reflect the momentum around individual actions to combat climate change – the youth activism sparked by Greta Thunberg, the growing trends of vegan, flexitarian and plant-based diets, reading and following the handbook There is No Planet B, or fashion designers upcycling clothes to create their latest collections.
Other words on the shortlist for Word of the Year 2019 all reflect the same concern with the effects of climate change:
carbon sink noun
an area of forest that is large enough to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere and therefore to reduce the effect of global warming
something that is compostable can be used as compost when it decays
the act of keeping something the same or of preventing it from being damaged
The Cambridge Dictionary editors use data from the website, blogs, and social media to identify and prioritise new additions to the Dictionary. We identified upcycling as a word to include back in 2011 after noticing a spike in searches for the word.
A recent addition is the noun plastic footprint, defined as a measurement of the amount of plastic that someone uses and then discards, considered in terms of the resulting damage caused to the environment. This term, first identified by traditional citation gathering, received 1,048 votes in the New Words blog poll, with 61 per cent of readers saying it should be added to the Cambridge Dictionary.