Earth Day Legacy: 28 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, April 22, 2013.  Since the first Earth Day was celebrated as en ‘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 completed the second week of April 2013.

“The English language is certainly not immune by the changes wrought by Earth Day and the environmental movement,” said Paul JJ Payack, president and chief word analyst of GLM. “Especially since the  the environmental movement continues to have an evermore profound effect on global culture.”

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.  Green (1) — Practices that are in harmony with the environment.

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

3.  Sustainable (3) — The ability to create self-replicating systems that can persist over time.  Sustainable was GLM’s word of the year in 2006.

4.  Climate change (4) — Favored by those who think the warming of the planet is primarily dues to long-term atmospheric cycles.

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

6.  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.  

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

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

9.  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. 

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

11.  Global warming (10) — Favored by those who think the warming of the planet is primarily due to human influence.  (Compare Climate  Change, above).

12.  Solar power (11)  – Energy derived by harnessing the sun’s electromagnetic radiation. 

13.  Biomass (12) — Material derived from plants that can be used as a renewable energy source.

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

15.  Biodegradable (13) — Organic material that decays naturally in a relatively short time.  

16.  Greenhouse gas (GHG) (14) — 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. 

17.  Wind power (15) — Energy derived by harnessing the wind. The top countries for generating electricity from wind power are the US, China, Germany and Spain. 

18.  Organic food (16) — Food grown or produced without synthetic fertilizers, insecticides, hormones, irradiation and genetic modification.  

19.  Carbon footprint (17) — 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.

20.  Post-consumer (waste) (18) — Material that can be used as a resource to build new products.   

21.  Natural (food) (19) – Food grown with without artificial ingredients (such as color)  and produced in a manner similar to that used in a well-stocked home kitchen.  

22.  Hybrid (car) (20) – Cars that use a mixture of technologies to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels.  

23.  Greenhouse Effect (21) – 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.  

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

25.  Greenwash (22) — Highlighting aspects of a product that may or appear to be favorable to the environment in order to re-shape its brand image.

26.  Carbon trading (23) — Trading, in effect, the rights to pollute between different manufacturers in the global marketplace.

27.  Free-range (24) — The animal has been raised with access to the outside; not the same as ‘free roaming’.

28.  Save a Tree! (25) – 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 175,000 print and electronic media, as well as new social media as they emerge.  

 About Global Language Monitor

Austin-based Global Language Monitor is the pioneer in web-based media analytics.  Founded in Silicon Valley, GLM collectively documents, analyzes and tracks trends in language usage worldwide, with a particular emphasis upon the English language.


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