“Existential”: The Word of the Year for 2019

Danielle Dentremont, Online Managing Editor

Dictionary.com declared that “existential” was the word of 2019 for its encapsulation of the year’s focus on all things related to existence. Greta Thunberg, a Swedish 17-year-old, was named TIME’s Person of the Year and is best known for her vehement concern for climate change. Faced with existential fear amidst unprecedented heat waves and wildfires in Sweden, Thunberg began her crusade in favor of reducing carbon emissions with her sights set on a sustainable environment. Thunberg’s apprehension of fossil fuels led her to found “Fridays For Future,” which began with the teenager taking days off from school to protest the Swedish government’s inaction in regard to climate change. Prior to her viral speech before the 2019 United Nations’ Summit, Thunberg led an immense climate change rally of millions who united behind her declaration that “our house is on fire.” In other words, Thunberg metaphorically articulated her fear for Earth’s fate.

Among Google’s most frequent searches of 2019 was the Area 51 Raid in Nevada on Sept. 20. The premise of the raid was built entirely upon the belief that aliens exist, which derived from conspiracy theories of UFO sightings. As humans, existence is taken for granted and, consequently, non-existence is truly perplexing.

Hurricane Dorian was another event that highlighted the fragility of existence. Beginning with tornadoes in North Carolina on Sept. 5 and culminating into a Category 5 hurricane—the highest classification on the Saffir-Simpson scale—this storm brewed existential fear. Winds sustained 185 miles per hour in the Bahamas. The damage that Hurricane Dorian caused was unprecedented with at least 70 fatalities and around three billion dollars worth of destruction; as a result, the National Hurricane Center and the World Meteorological Organization are likely to retire the name “Dorian.”

Most recently, videos of panic-struck koala bears have surfaced on the Internet. Such koala bears faced the truly imminent danger of wildfires. Australia suffered from an outbreak of bushfires that rendered the air unbreathable and devastated ecosystems with the estimated loss of one billion animals. 2019 was a year of existential crises more so than other years.

High school itself seems to be an existential crisis at times, as the goal of a high school education is to prepare students for their futures; however, the future is nebulous and full of existential questions.