‘Climate Change’ tops Earth Day Words that Changed the World

Since 1970 a whole new vocabulary has entered the English Language.  

New Words and New ‘Senses’ of Old Words

Austin, Texas, Earth Week, April 2014 —  Climate Change has topped the Global Language Monitor’s Earth Day Words that Changed the World analysis.  Climate Change outpaced Sustainable and Global Warming in the third annual analysis of Global English.  

Since the first Earth Day was celebrated as an ‘environmental teach-in’ on April 22, 1970 a whole new vocabulary has entered the English Language.   The Global Language Monitor has determined the top new words and new ‘senses’ of old words that have been engendered  since that first Earth Day in 1970.  The words are ranked by order of present-day usage in the English-speaking world.  The study was updated the second week of April 2014.

“As the term ‘Climate Change’ suggests, the issues that the first Earth Day helped bring to the fore have had an evermore profound effect on global culture  — and the English language,” said Paul JJ Payack, president and chief word analyst of GLM. “The issues these words represent are now viewed as essential to human progress, and even survival.

The words analyzed are but the most profound examples of a movement that has been gaining momentum at least since the 1960s.

GLM used their Narrative Tracker methodologies to determine and rank the Earth Day words.  The criteria included determining which words have had an impact on the environmental movement and/or were influential in its growth.  

The Top Words Engendered by Earth Day and the Environmental Movement since 1970 are listed below.

Rank/Word/Last Year’s Rank/Definition    

1.  Climate change (4) — Now used twice as much as the term ‘global warming’.  Originally favored by those who think the warming of the planet is primarily dues to long-term atmospheric cycles.

2. Sustainable (3) — The ability to create self-replicating systems that can persist over time.  Sustainable was GLM’s word of the year in 2006.Green (1) — Practices that are in harmony with the environment.

3. Global warming (11) — Favored by those who think the warming of the planet is primarily due to human influence.  (Compare Climate  Change, above).

4. Eco- (as a prefix) (5) — Shorthand for ‘ecological'; from the Greek ‘oikos’ for house (or table).  

5.  Vegan (9) — Those who abstain from eating animal or dairy products, often avoiding any products made from animals (such as leather or gelatin); coined in 1944 in the UK by Donald Watson. 

6.  Ecology (7) — the relations of beings to each other and their environment; from the Greek ‘oikos’ for house (or table).  

7.  Recycle (8) — The re-using of materials once viewed as waste.  

8.  Hybrid (car) (22) — Cars that use a mixture of technologies to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.  

9.  Locavore (10) — Thinking globally while eating locally.

10. Emissions (6) —  In this sense, gases and particles sent out into the atmosphere through industrial production, automobiles, etc.; from the Late Latin emittere, to send out of.  

11. Xeriscape (14) — Literally ‘dry landscaping'; using natural elements in a desert landscape for yard enhancement.   Begging the question:  must every yard resemble an English Manor?

12.  Natural (food) (21) — Food grown with without artificial ingredients (such as color)  and produced in a manner similar to that used in a well-stocked home kitchen.

13.  Renewable energy (2) — Energy derived from solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and similar ‘sustainable’ sources.

14.  Organic food (18) — Food grown or produced without synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, hormones, irradiation and genetic modification.  

15.  Carbon footprint (19) — The total amount of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions generate by a human activity.  Driving a late-model, fuel-efficient car emits about 6 pounds of CO2 every ten miles.  Term first used in 1980.   Alternative definition — Your life reduced to the a series of equations on energy (carbon) consumption.

16.  Biodegradable (15) — Organic material that decays naturally in a relatively short time.

17. Greenhouse gas (GHG) (16) — Any gas emitted into the atmosphere that trap heat (e.g., CO2); without them the Earth would be uninhabitable for humans; with an excess the Earth would be uninhabitable for humans.18. Solar power (12) — Energy derived by harnessing the sun’s electromagnetic radiation.

19. Post-consumer (waste) (20) — Material that can be used as a resource to build new products.

20. Emissions (6) — In this sense, gases and particles sent out into the atmosphere through industrial production, automobiles, etc.; from the Late Latin emittere, to send out of.

21.  Greenwash (25) — Highlighting aspects of a product that may or appear to be favorable to the environment in order to re-shape its brand image.

22.  Biomass (13) — Material derived from plants that can be used as a renewable energy source.

23.  Biofuels (24) — Finally, we are reaching a break-even point with sugar based biofuels in Brazil.

24.  Greenhouse Effect (23) — The heating of the Earth’s surface in a fashion similar to a greenhouse, with GHG acting as glass windows that trap heat.  The result of the increased emission of CO2 and other GHGs.

25.  Carbon trading (26) — Trading, in effect, the rights to pollute between different manufacturers in the global marketplace.

26.   Free-range (27) — The animal has been raised with access to the outside; not the same as ‘free roaming’.

27.  Save a Tree! (28) — One of the first rallying cries of the Environmental Movement.  Unfortunately, replacing a renewable resource with one made of petroleum created ecological problems of its own. 

For this analysis, the Global Language Monitor collected data from the Internet, blogosphere, the top 300,000 print and electronic media, as well as new social media as they emerge.  

 About Global Language Monitor

Austin, Texas-based Global Language Monitor analyzes and catalogues the latest trends in word usage and word choices, and their impact on the various aspects of culture, with a particular emphasis upon Global English. In 2003, GLM first coined the term ‘ephemeral data’ as an attribute of ever-expanding Big Data. GLM has launched a number of innovative products and services monitoring the Internet, the blogosphere, social media as well as the top print and electronic media sites.

For more information, call 1.512.815.8836, email info@LanguageMonitor.com, or visit www.LanguageMonitor.com.



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The BP oil disaster is a failure of technology and lexicology. The words that we use to describe the Gulf of Mexico disaster don’t begin to define the scope of the catastrophe. Is it a spill? A gusher? Host Jeff Young tracks the flow of words with Paul Payak from the Global Language Monitor.
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YOUNG: Millions – maybe billions – of words have been written about BP’s runaway oil well. Yet words still fail us—we still lack the right term for what’s happening in the Gulf. So we turn to Paul JJ Payack for guidance. He’s President of the Global Language Monitor in Austin, Texas, where he tracks changes in the language, including the words most often used to describe the oil in the Gulf.PAYACK: Overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly, the top word is oil spill, which is sort of a disappointment. Many times when you have new events in a language, the language leads the event. You can actually… there are new words that pop up in profusion.YOUNG: Uh huh.

PAYACK: And, in this case, we haven’t seen that many new words. What we’ve seen is the old way to describe an oil spill. The Exxon Valdez has a crash, spills the oil out, and that’s a spill. But this is different; this is a lot different than a spill.

YOUNG: Because a spill connotes a fixed amount that spilled from a container into where you don’t want it. That’s not what’s happening here at all.

PAYACK: In our case, we’re not talking about a spill, we’re talking about an oil field that’s estimated at 3, 4, 5 billion barrels erupting, but we still refer to it as a spill.

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Why a Green Word Was Chosen as Word of the Year (WOTY)

google news comment

Why A Green Word was chosen as The Global Language Monitor Word of the Year – Google News Comment Dec 13, 2007

The Global Language Monitor began naming the Word of the Year early in this decade, arguably the first organization to do so through our predecessor site in 2000. Remember the word ‘Chad?’

Since then it has become an increasingly competitive enterprise, as Merriam-Webster, the New Oxford American Dictionary, Webster’s New World and others have begun the practice.

We, of course, are honored by the competition.

There are two distinctions with the Global Language Monitor’s approach:

1. The words are ranked by a proprietary algorithm, the Predictive Quantities Indicator(tm) or PQI, and not by opinion or majority vote of editors, readers, or the public.

2. The words are chosen from the entire English-speaking community, what we call Global English, that now has approximately 1.35 Billion speakers (up from 250 million in 1960.) The words on GLM’s 2007 list include those from China, India, and Singapore.

The theory behind the PQI was to eliminate any statistical or personal bias in the choice, So while we are tracking words such as w00t (and actually have a section on L33t-speak in an upcoming book), we found it just did not to have the numerical weight as the words that rose to the top of GLM’s 2007 list. (While intresting, w00t was surpassed by more than a 500:1 ratio.)

Hybrid was chosen as a non-biased, non-politicized, representation of all things green. You don’t need the PQI to tell you that words and phrases such as climate change, global warming, planetary peril, biodiesel, green in this context, and hybrid all come up tens of millions of times in a simple Google search. (The PQI tracks momentum, direction, year-over-year changes, as well as several other indicators, and produces a statistically normalized result.)

My personal preference for WOTY was the word surge (the Iraq War and political strategy), which actually led our analysis throughout the year until the hybrid-related words surged past surge in our final analysis.



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