The word that defines a year is one that, looking back years from now, we’ll be able to isolate to a specific space and time. It encapsulates a mood for an entire 365-day period among English-speakers everywhere. It’s something we can all relate to.
The word that Dictionary.com has chosen to represent 2019 is “existential.”
In its simplest sense, existential means “concerned with the nature of human existence.” But it’s often used when something’s existence is at risk, as in an “existential threat,” or related to a philosophical question about why we exist at all, as in an “existential crisis.” Sound familiar?
“Existential” was prominent, both as a word and a theme, in a lot of the news stories we talked about this year, including climate change, gun violence, and democratic institutions, Dictionary.com explains. “It also popped up in lighter stories in popular culture, signalling its place in the cultural zeitgeist,” they added.
Dictionary.com chooses its word of the year from a list of options based on the site’s top searches and trends. The site notes that there are other words we looked up this year, like “nonbinary,” “quid pro pro,” “manifesto,” “pansexual,” and “polar vortex.” But clearly, of all the words we searched, the one that was most fitting for the larger societal mood was the one about things either ending forever, or about personal and political crises.
Some of the examples of the word’s use that Dictionary mentions are Joe Biden’s assertion in June that U.S. President Donald Trump “is literally an existential threat” to America; the Hong Kong protests that originated to oppose an extradition treaty turning into “existential demonstrations about the future of the territory” and Bernie Sanders referring to climate change as “an existential crisis that impacts not just you and me and our generation but our kids and our grandchildren.”
One other significant part of culture that contributed to our collective existential crisis: Forky, a sentient homemade toy consisting of googly eyes and pipe cleaner hands, who spends much of “Toy Story 4” wondering who he is and why he exists. HuffPost pop culture reporter Matthew Jacobs got a specific Dictionary.com shoutout for his description of the character as “summer’s best existential spork.”
And if you needed any more proof that we’re living in end times, last year’s word of the year was “misinformation.”
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This article originally appeared on HuffPost.