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What the 2019 Word of the Year Says about our Planet

The 2019 word of the year affects everyone — whether you run a business or not. I’m joined this week by my great friend, creator, writer, podcaster, and producer, Liz Zirk, as we tackle the 2019 Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year and shortlist. This episode is fun and thought-provoking.

  • Liz is interviewing/quizzing Jen
  • Exploring the word of the year and shortlisted words
  • What are some of the challenges we face in making a difference?
  • What can we do to help?

What’s your word of the year? Let us know!

What the 2019 word of the year says about our planet. #climateemergency #climatechange Click To Tweet
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Things We Mention

Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year

Oxford’s 2019 Word of the Year: Shortlist

The wrong NetZero

Leonardo DiCaprio responds after Brazil’s President blames actor for Amazon forest fires

The Pulse of Plant-Based Eating

What the 2018 Word of the Year Says about U.S. Culture

Why Your Entrepreneurial Spirit is Important

Behind-the-Scenes Get to Know Jen Holiday Mashup

jen mcfarland liz zirk what the 2019 word of the year says about our planet

Jen McFarland & Liz Zirk

Transcript: Climate Emergency is the 2019 Word of the Year

Hello, and welcome to the Women Conquer Business podcast. I’m your host, Jen McFarland. Although this week, I am a co-host with my good friend and colleague, Liz Zirk. Now, if you haven’t listened to the show since the beginning, then you might not know who Liz is.

About Liz Zirk

Liz is my great friend. She is also a podcaster, who just recently wound down her own show, Word of the Week. She is also a producer and writer, and super creative and a wonderful person and a great friend. Now, last year, we did the word of the year. It’s so funny because I was just going through all of my blog posts, and I found that I actually talked about the word of the year in 2017 in my blog. And then last year, we did a podcast about the 2018 word of the year, which I’ll include a link in the show notes to that if you’re interested. And it was about what the 2018 word of the year says about the United States.

Now, this year’s word of the year, if you know the title of the show, it’s the 2019 word of the year and what it says about our planet. So it’s a little bit broader. And the conversation was actually much longer. I shortened it. You’re welcome. I didn’t think you wanted to hear us goof off for 40 minutes. If you would like to, I’ll try to include a link in the show notes so that you can hear the rest of the conversation because we not only did the Oxford English Dictionary, we also covered the Cambridge Dictionary versions of all the words of the year. So Liz is great.

This week, she is more interviewing me than me interviewing her, which is kind of a fun twist. So please, buckle up. Listen. And I think the thing that’s most interesting is it’s so easy to say, “Well, I’m in business, what does the word of the year have to do with me?”

It’s really that we all live in this gigantic web and ecosystem where everything is so connected. And I think that will make more sense as you hear what the word of the year is. And if you think about how much we are also connected and networked together, of course, the word of the year is going to have some impact on one dimension of your business. So sit back, relax, enjoy, and catch you on the other side.

Women Conquer Business Podcast Intro

My name is Jen McFarland. I help business owners like you lead, plan, and execute their projects for maximum impact. Women-led businesses received less funding, yet our businesses are more successful. As consumers, we hold the first [inaudible]. It’s time for us to take on the business world. Welcome to Women Conquer Business.[music]

If you listen to the Women Conquer Business podcast, could you do me a favor? This week, could you tell one of your friends, only one friend that you listen to this show and you enjoy it and encourage them to listen to it too. I feel like if we’re building community, then the best thing that we can do is talk about all the good things that we found. So if you like the show and you enjoy it, share it with a friend. And now here’s the episode.

Starting with the 2018 Word of the Year

For this episode, because I love words and because you and I did an episode last year for the word of the year 2018, I thought I would bring the 2019 word of the year to the table. So do you remember the 2018 word of the year?


That’s right.

It was toxic. There were a bunch of shortlisted words. So the Oxford English Dictionary, they had a group of very smart people come up with data. They looked through all the data of words that have been used, how many times it’s been mentioned, recommended, retweeted, etc. And they sort of aggregate that data and come up with a list of words with one being on top. That’s the word of the year. Last year’s word was toxic, but there were other– BDE was on the list, I believe.


Yeah, gammon was another one. What was it? Tech flash or?

Tech lash.

Tech lash, right, like tech backlash.

And last year, I interviewed you and made you guess the words. So this year we’re doing it the opposite. So I don’t know what the word of the year is. I’ve been very careful not to read them, which is hard for me because I’m totally into I would be looking this up by now. But we made an agreement, which I regret deeply now [laughter] because I don’t really know where this is going.

Jen also just doesn’t like being in the dark about some things.

No. I’m a researcher. I like to know what’s going on.

Yes. And I fully respect and appreciate the fact that you held fast to our agreement and that you have no idea these words that are written down on the paper in front of me.

Okay, so Are you ready?

The 2019 Word of the Year is Climate Emergency

I am ready. I don’t know if the listeners are ready, but they’re going to have to be. Okay. I hope you’re ready out there.So because this year’s word from the Oxford English Dictionary and the shortlisted words are all somewhat related to each other, I thought I would give you a handful of clues and you could guess the theme for these words. Okay. Okay. And I don’t want my clues to be too obvious. But I’ll say young people is clue number one. I’ll say politicization.


Sure, that too [laughter] is clue number two. And clue number three is global.

Well, it probably has something to do with Greta and the climate, right?

Mm-mm. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding.

Okay. It had to be that or I was going with guns until it’s at least a global.

Until it’s a global.




So it’s about the climate?

Yes. Okay. And the actual word of the year–

Does that actually explain why it’s so hot in here right now [laughter]?

I mean, you and I are trapped in a room together. So that also has something to do with it.

Oh, okay. Okay. Good talk. Thanks.

So the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year. The first word of the year is climate. Should I just tell you the word or did you want to guess the second word?

I mean, you guide me. What do you want, Liz?

Okay, so if I tell you that it– if I tell you that it’s a phrase, including the word climate, what are some phrases that come up for you?

Climate change.

Right. That’s not it.

That’s not it. Okay.

But that’s good. What about words that you have only really heard recently? Because climate change, we’ve heard for a decade or so, right or more really. But that’s not a new word. But climate emphasis. It’s an emphasis word.

Wow. I don’t know. I’m stumped.

So this year’s word of the year is climate emergency.

Climate emergency. Oh, right, because finally, they’re starting to talk about the fact that we could all die if things start not being stopped. Okay.

Yeah. So technically, a climate emergency is a situation in which urgent action is required to reduce or halt climate change and avoid potentially irreversible environmental damage resulting from it.

As In We are “Extincting” Ourselves

Wow irreversible environmental damage. We’re part of that environment. So totally to your point. Humans are “extincting” themselves [laughter] through this process. And I like the fact that the word of the year is climate emergency. Because it’s not just climate change. Sometimes change feels okay or–

Yeah, I mean, well, change can be good or bad. Global warming doesn’t work because everybody’s like, “I get to live in

Hawaii? Fantastic.” So yeah. No, I mean, climate emergency is definitely better. Not the same as your face is going to melt off but like we’re getting there.

We’re getting there. Maybe to 2021 where we’ll be like, “Your face is melting.” So yeah, so there’s a bunch of shortlisted words that all have to do with climate. Climate crisis is one of the shortlisted words. So a situation characterized by the threat of highly dangerous and irreversible changes to global climate. I like the fact that they aggregate the data on this. So even though climate crisis is widely used, a lot of people talk about it being a crisis, like this is something we have to take care of. It has to be solved. I like that climate emergency is the one that people have been using more often because it sort of calls– it feels like a call to action. Yeah.

Oh, And Then There’s Climate Denial

Instead of one of the other shortlisted words, which is climate denial.

I was wondering if it would get into like some of the other opinions about that, which is not everybody agrees with this, even though, again, the data is very clear. And there’s been a big spike in what’s going on in the world and how the climate has been affected.

Totally. Yeah, climate denial is the rejection of climate change, the fact that climate change is caused by human activity or is even a threat. But I love some of these other words on the shortlist. One is eco-anxiety . What do you think that means?

I would say that people are anxious about the changes that they’re seeing in the world and the ecosystem. So that might be like bee collapse or what’s going on with frogs and things like that. A lot of it for me is even when I work with people on their projects, I’m a systems thinker. So I’m looking at all the connections between things. So that eco-anxiety is a big deal for me because I know how connected we all are. And so when things like that happen, it really freaks me out.

Yeah. Yeah, because you’re seeing all of the different details that are piling up, so to speak.

Right. We’re very dependent on one another. And that’s humans and mammals and reptiles and insects. We all need each other. So when people start disappearing or animals, I mean, that’s a big cause for anxiety.Definitely. Something that would give you eco-anxiety is ecocide, which is another shortlisted word.



I’ve never heard that one. So that’s the death, right?

It’s the destruction of the natural environment by deliberate or negligent human activity.

Oh, like homicide?

Yes, yes.

Homicide against the environment.

Correct. Ecocide. And I think it’s what’s happening in Brazil with the Amazon.

The rain forest.

Yeah, the rain forest being cleared for agricultural, businesses, and other activities like that. It’s in Indonesia and other places in the South Pacific, with palm trees that provide palm oil. A lot of those are being raised and burned too because they’re doing it illegally or something like that. They’re doing it in a national forest or something like that. And then they’re covering their tracks afterwards.

Yeah. Oh, so it’s not Leonardo DiCaprio?

No, [right now?].

Oh, okay. You read that story, right? You know what I’m talking about?

Tell me.

The president of Brazil came out and said that the Amazon crisis was caused by Leonardo DiCaprio.

Sure, because why wouldn’t it be?

Because that makes a lot of sense. I thought maybe you hadn’t read that when I started talking and you’re looking at me like–

And my love life is caused by [inaudible] or something like that. Those two are not related to each other at all whatsoever. Okay.

As far as you know.

As far as I know. It’s fair [laughter]. I did grow up in the same town as Tom Brady, which is why I picked her out of all the people.

I was wondering. I’m like, “That’s the most random.”

He’s older than me. He’s four years older than me. But yeah, we grew up in the same town.

But yeah, no, Leonardo DiCaprio did not cause the rain forest to be deforested. Yeah. What are some others? Oh, there’s some other really good ones on here. Another shortlisted word is flight shame.

Oh, that’s when you make other people feel bad because they’re flying and that harms the environment?

Well, no. Well, yes and no. So flight shame is the person that is reluctant to travel by air because they understand that aircraft pollution is a thing and they don’t want to do more damage to the environment. But the person who’s making other people feel bad about it doesn’t have flight shame. That’s flight shame [inaudible].

Flight shamer?

Yeah [laughter]. Yeah. But I love that because people are thinking about these things. They’re thinking about the fact that jet fuel is very toxic to the environment. And the more you get on a plane, the more you’re contributing to that toxicity. Also on here is net-zero , which is the target of completely negating the amount of greenhouse gases by either reducing CO2 emissions or somehow absorbing CO2 emissions into the atmosphere, so.

So we’re not talking about the 1990s internet service provider?


Good talk, good talk.

Yeah, no.


We’re Obviously Not Eating A Plant-Based Diet

And then also on here is plant-based .

Oh, I like that.

And that one’s further down on the shortlist because I think people aren’t talking about plants-based as much as they are also talking about either vegan or meat-free or vegetarian. Yeah, there’s other terms for that.

Sure. For like a plant-based diet?



But yeah, it’s consistent largely. Although, inside the definition of this– and I didn’t look this up, so this will be something for me to do after. But plant-based is consisting largely of vegetables, greens, pulses, and other foods derived from plants.

What’s a pulse? How do you spell that?

Spelled like a regular pulse.

Like a pulse?

Like your heartbeat. It’s pulse. But I’m like, “What’s a pulse?”

I don’t know.

Unless that was a typo on the website. I don’t know. I don’t know what that means. For all of our plant-based dietary listeners out there–

Please tell us.

–tell us what that means.

In relation to plant-based. But I also love– and plant based is really interesting. I saw a brief documentary, a 10-minute thing on it was either Netflix or Vice or something like that about the lab work that they’re doing to create–they’re recreating chicken.

Oh, really?

Yeah. They’re using chicken DNA cells and trying to recreate it. Yeah, that’s the face that usually everybody makes when they listen to the story because they’re trying to recreate the chicken nugget as a way to not have to raise chickens in order to be chicken nuggets.

Yeah. The face was actually because I really don’t like chicken.

Oh, that’s fair.

And after living in Kazakhstan and seeing what they eat and what they do, it kind of sealed the deal. I didn’t really like it before.

Now I really don’t like [crosstalk].

Now I really don’t like it. That’s interesting. A lot of people that I know who are vegetarian or vegan don’t really want things that tastes like meat.

Right, that’s also–

So it’s interesting,

And I think what they’re trying to do in lab studies and lab work like that is even “beef patties,” it’s not just like a veggie burger. They’re trying to recreate the pinkish and it’s the pink–

Yeah, like the impossible burger.

Yes, exactly. And I think that’s because there is a section of the public that is privileged enough to have the money to buy those products in order to go meat-free so that they can start supporting those types of businesses that are going to try to provide those food sources to us because long term, especially when it comes to beef, there’s definitely a lot of environmental impact, if a lot of us went beef-free and chicken-free. So I think that’s why they’re concentrating on those two meats, so.

That makes a lot of sense.

And some of us, me, like eating those things. So if there is an option where I can be plant-based instead of actually eating an animal product, I’m happy to.

Liz kind of trails off there. But what she’s saying is that’s the end of the Oxford English Dictionary word of the year. We, in real life, went on to talk about what was in the Cambridge dictionary as well, which was very much aligned with everything that was in the Oxford dictionary. We’re going to pick up the conversation toward the end and listen through the end because it talks about some of the challenges that we have in addressing the climate crisis and then also what we can do that is the most important thing, I believe, which is listen. One of the complexities around environmental issues is poverty.

Yes, absolutely.

It’s really easy for a lot of people to talk about all of these issues. And then even within our own country, it’s not going to work for some people, let alone in other countries.

Where the poverty level is– or the percentage of people who live in the poverty level is much, much higher. And in a lot of those countries, that’s where a lot of the environmental impacts are felt more directly by the people who live in them as well.

That’s true. And also these are countries that are up and coming. And so they feel like that now they’re being imposed upon to act differently than, say, the United States did. And they absolutely are having that expectation. And it’s complicated by the fact that there are a lot of people in the United States who are climate deniers and who run companies that don’t make or don’t want to make the changes necessary. So then the countries that are not as wealthy want to know why they’re being forced to make changes and do things differently. So it is a broader conversation around economics and privilege that is very complicated. I think that the best thing is that we’re at least having these conversations and that it rose to be the word of the year. I feel pretty good about that. I’m actually surprised. I thought it was going to be something political because – let’s face it – toxic was something political the year before. So I thought it was going to be something like that again because we’ve continued to have more political unrest around the world, really.

Yeah. I mean, yes. And I think both Oxford and Cambridge, clearly, the data that they’ve aggregated to create these lists of words for this year are based in that data. But I think it’s also they are institutions that people with privilege will turn to in order to find knowledge and information about what people are talking about. And they’ve decided to put this list together, not just based on the data, but the fact that all of these words are thematically similar. It goes to show that A, we’re talking about it more. But B, Oxford and Cambridge have decided this is also what matters. I’m sure there are other words that could have been on the shortlist, but aren’t. Obviously, like I said, the data is there. [inaudible] and just pick these out of the sky. But yeah, there could have been two, three, four, or five other words that could have been on the shortlist, but they’re not because Oxford and Cambridge said, “Okay, I think we have something here. Thematically, let’s put these all together and make people aware of what these words mean because it’s important, because we are talking about climate and the emergencies that are emerging.”

Oh, yeah. I mean, we’re talking about extinction.

Yeah, that was also on the shortlist. But I figured that was a bit morbid to talk about. But yeah, extinction is on the shortlist of words from Oxford. So I mean that tells you ecocide. I mean, this is pretty severe. This is not climate change. This is a climate emergency. It’s real. It’s happening every day. And I think you’re right that talking about the entire picture of it, that it’s not simply just not using a plastic straw, if you can. It’s also the fact that there are countries around the world that are looking to the US and the EU to provide the benchmark, the standard for how to proceed in taking climate action.

Right. Right. And when I studied sustainability at PSU, a lot of it was it’s actually everybody else who’s taking the lead in so many different ways. And that’s been the case. I think that when I got my MPA, it was the very end of George W. Bush. But these things were going on through, I mean, every president, regardless of their party. I mean, certainly, a lot of things that have happened along party lines, but this is really about an ongoing problem that we’ve been facing. And it’s really about money. At the end of it, it’s about money and whether big businesses going to win. Or the thing that gets me is it does create jobs when you start doing things differently. So I think it can be a win for everybody, but it does take some really creative thinking.

I think what’s also evident in these words being on the list this year is that there’s clearly community centered around climate emergency, climate action, and combating climate denial because if all of these words are being grouped together and being talked about by young people, a lot of young people are talking about it, it needs to get fixed now [laughter]. This is their thinking. Then that means there’s community around it too. And it takes a village, so.Well, I think the biggest question for people like us and everybody who’s listening out there for all of you is what can we do to support this next generation in making these changes real? How can we model change? How can we support them and help rise them up because they have some really great ideas and they see a lot of things. It’s time to support them as well and help them and listen to them so that we can actually make the world better for them and for their kids so that they don’t have to face [eco?] side and all of these things that they’re seeing. But it’s all the people who were dismissing that were very agitating for me, the people who were, after Greta spoke, disparaging her as being too young and not understanding. And I was like–

She don’t know what she’s talking about.

I’m like, “But she does.”

She doesn’t know what she’s talking about [laughter].

Yeah, yeah, so.

You don’t have to be old, white, and dressed in a suit in order to know what you’re talking about. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Right. But we can all rise up and talk. It’s like what we’re trying to do anyway with our businesses and with our families has changed the paradigm.

And it happens one day at a time. I mean, Rome was not built in a day. Climate action is not going to be built in one day. It’s going to be built day after day after day after day. And to maintain your own sort of boundary on that, to just be like, “No, I will not use plastic. And I will compost. And I will support the organizations that are doing something against climate crisis.” I am going to clap back at people on social media when they call Greta a teenager who doesn’t know what she’s talking about. You should clap back. It is not just enough to live your life in your own little, personal bubble anymore. We do need to come together on these issues, I think.

Absolutely. Well, that’s about all I got. You have anything else for me?


Want to spring any other words on me?

I put my paper down because that’s all the words that I have.

These are all the words?

Those are all the words.

You have the best words.

I have the best words. Oh, God. Can I tell you a brief anecdote about a word?

I Love You “Bigly”


So I’m at the airport, and didn’t know I was going to run into my friend. And so I saw her in the concourse and was like, “Oh my god, I haven’t seen you in forever.” And we were both hungry. So we sat down and we had something to eat. And I’m catching her up on my life. And she’s catching me up on her life. It’s awesome. It’s sweet as friend catchups are. And then I was talking about– I don’t know what I was talking about, but I use the word bigly. But in the moment it came out of my mouth, I was ashamed of it. I was like, “No. Oh, God, I can’t believe I used that word.” And she saw it all over my face. So cracked up. She’s like, “Okay [laughter].” And because I was like, “Oh my god, I just used that word.”

And then I was shrinking back on myself like, “Oh, God.”

Because you realized it’s actually not a word?

And the person who’s previously used the word is my least favorite person in the world. So it’s both. It’s both the fact that it’s a fake word [laughter] and F that guy. So yeah. That’s the only other word I have for you today [laughter].

I love you bigly.

I believe that’s kind of the sort of sentiment I was going for the word when I said the word, but yeah. I don’t think that’s a word we need to take back because it’s not a word. You know what I’m saying?

Yeah [laughter].

Anyway, end scene.

End scene. Thank you so much for being on Women Conquer Business.

Of course. I’ll come back anytime.


There are always words.[music]

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