How did 2019 make you feel? Surely there were highs and lows, but if you spent a good portion of the year that was feeling concerned with the nature of your existence, then Dictionary. com understands. On Monday the website announced that it has selected “existential” as its word of the year for the 2019, and explained why through the lens of Toy Story 4 breakout character Forky.
“We know what you must be thinking: Forky? The dictionary? 2019?” Dictionary.com’s write-up begins. “Well, the thing about Forky is, his dilemma actually speaks to a broader theme of threat and crisis reflected not only in culture and news, but also in our dictionary work throughout this year. High-stakes events around the world involving climate change, gun violence, and democratic institutions were some of the top news stories. And words about these events, from polar vortex to stochastic terrorism to exonerate, were top searches and trends on Dictionary.com. Notable among searches was existential, which we’ve chosen as our Word of the Year for 2019. It captures a sense of grappling with the survival — literally and figuratively — of our planet, our loved ones, our ways of life.”
The explanation continues, “Yep, heavy stuff. 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.”
Dictionary.com explained the two main definitions of “existential”: “Of or relating to existence” (as in, climate change is an “existential” threat to humankind) and “concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual’s freely made choices” (as in, Forky went through an “existential” crisis about whether he’s a toy or trash).
Although talking about the nature of existence can sometimes feel heavy or dark, Dictionary.com wants readers to know its choice is also optimistic: “A concept at the core of existential philosophy, agency is the power to make meaningful, authentic choices over our own existences as individual beings. Forky, for instance, exercises agency over his life when he chooses to be there for his child, rejecting that he is just a disposable piece of plastic and embracing his worth as a toy … not that we are saying you have to make life choices just because a cartoon utensil did. But, Forky’s journey affirms how we can turn existential threats into existential choices.”
As an example, Dictionary.com chose “nonbinary” as their runner-up word of the year, writing, “in the year 2019, defined by existential threats and crises, the ability to define who we are is a powerful and inspiring example of taking existential control over our lives.”