Why is this Germany’s ‘ugliest word of the year’?

“Klimahysterie” or “climate hysteria” has been chosen as Germany's Unwort (non-word or ugly word) of 2019. Here’s why.

Why is this Germany's 'ugliest word of the year'?

The expression, which has been used by people in politics, business and the media, was chosen because it “sweepingly pathologizes the increasing commitment to climate protection as a kind of collective psychosis”, said the jury on Tuesday at the Technical University of Darmstadt.

READ ALSO: German word of the day: Das Unwort

Combining the words climate and hysteria, linguistics professor and jury spokeswoman, Nina Janich, added that the word aims to “defame climate protection efforts, the climate protection movement, and to discredit debates” on the theme.

2019 was the year that the Fridays for Future movement, sparked by Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, gathered pace, resulting in huge demonstrations across the world, including Germany.

However, many people have dismissed the global emergency as some kind of mass “hysteria”.

As an example, the jury cited Alexander Gauland, faction leader of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) who had said last June: “The AfD will not join in with the climate hysteria of the other parties.”

READ ALSO: Germany's AFD embraces climate change denial as part of EU campaign

Thanks to the scientific findings on climate change, the word also “irresponsibly supports anti-scientific tendencies,” the jury added.

A Fridays for Future demo in Hamburg last year. Photo: DPA

Since 1991, German linguists have chosen an Unwort des Jahres (non-word or ugly word of the year) in a bid to highlight language that goes “against human dignity” or the “principles of democracy”.

According to the jury, an “Unwort” usually marks a negative trend, discriminates against specific groups and is deceitful or misleading.

The news has been welcomed by environmental activists as well as people campaigning for women's rights, who highlighted that the term “hysteria” is often used in a sexist manner against women.

Fridays for Future Germany tweeted about the Australian fires and other climate emergencies, adding at the end: “Or simply climate hysteria”.

On Twitter, journalist Katharina Meyer z. Eppendorf said climate hysteria is a rubbish word “because hysteria is a sexist term”.

The jury received hundreds of proposals from the public, including “Bauernbashing” (farmer-bashing) and “Ökodikatur” (eco-dictatorship).

In 2018, the non-word of the year was “Anti-Abscheibe-Industrie”, or anti-deportation industry.

The previous year's Unwort was “Alternative Fakten” (alternative facts) while it was “Volksverräter” (traitor to the people) in 2016. “Gutmensch” (do-gooder) was 2015's non-word of the year and “Lügenpresse” (lying press) took the top spot in 2014.

This isn’t the only linguistic competition in Germany. Last November , the term “Respektrente” was chosen as the German Word of the Year, the jury of the Gesellschaft für deutsche Sprache (Society for the German Language, or GfdS) announced in Wiesbaden. 

The word – combining the terms respect and pension– characterized one of the largest social and political discussions of 2019, said the GfdS.

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UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote ‘of a century’

Tens of thousands of climate activists including Greta Thunberg descended on German cities Friday ahead of the weekend general election to crank up the pressure on the candidates to succeed Angela Merkel.

UPDATE: Greta Thunberg joins German climate strikes before vote 'of a century'
Greta Thunberg and other climate activists in Berlin on Friday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jörg Carstensen

Speaking at a rally in front of the Reichstag parliament building in the run-up to Sunday’s poll, Thunberg told cheering Fridays for Future youth supporters that they needed to hold Germany’s political leaders to account past election day.

“It is clearer than ever that no political party is doing close to enough… not even their proposed commitments are close to being in line with what would be needed to fulfil the Paris Agreement,” on curbing climate change, she said.

“Yes, we must vote, you must vote, but remember that voting only will not be enough. We must keep going into the streets.”

As Germany’s top parties hold final rallies ahead of Sunday’s vote, the Fridays for Future youth marches claim the political class has let down the younger generation.

“The political parties haven’t taken the climate catastrophe seriously enough,” Luisa Neubauer, who runs the group’s German chapter, said.

She said Germany, as one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases, had an outsize responsibility to set an example, with time running out to reverse destructive trends.

“That is why we are calling this the election of a century,” she said.

The race has boiled down to a two-way contest between Social Democrat Olaf Scholz, the moderate finance minister, and Armin Laschet from Merkel’s conservative Christian Democrats.

Polls give Scholz a small lead of about 26 percent over Laschet at around 22 percent, with the candidate from the ecologist Greens, Annalena Baerbock, trailing in the mid-teens.

Despite the urgency of the climate issue for a majority of Germans, particularly in the aftermath of deadly floods in the west of the country in July, this has failed to translate into strong support for the relatively inexperienced Baerbock.

She told Die Welt newspaper that she hoped Friday’s rally would give her party “tailwinds” heading into the vote. “The next government has to be a climate government – that will only work with a strong Green party.”   

More than 400 “climate strikes” are planned across Germany, with the Swedish Thunberg, who inspired the movement, expected to speak outside the Reichstag parliament building.

Thousands gathered on the lawn there from late morning bearing signs reading “Climate now, homework later”, “It’s our future” and simply “Vote”.

“Climate is an important issue and if this continues things are going to get worse and worse,” 14-year-old pupil Louise Herr told AFP.

Gathering under the banners “We are young and need the world!” and “Everything for the climate”, the activists are arguing that “climate crisis is this century’s biggest problem”.

READ ALSO: Climate change made German floods ‘more likely and more intense’

 ‘Unfair burden’

The activists will be part of a global climate strike in more than 1,000 communities around the world, Fridays for Future said.

Their central demand is to limit the warming of the Earth to maximum 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) as laid out in the 2015 Paris climate accord.

The Paris agreement set a goal of reducing global warming by two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels with an aspiration to go further and cap the rise to 1.5 Celsius.

Despite Merkel’s vocal support of climate protection measures, Germany has repeatedly failed in recent years to meet its emission reduction targets under the pact.

In a landmark ruling in April, Germany’s constitutional court found the government’s plans to curb CO2 emissions “insufficient” to meet the targets of the Paris agreement and placed an “unfair burden” on future generations.

The Fridays for Future movement launched global school strikes more than two years ago arguing that time was running out to stop irreversible damage from the warming of the planet.

Demonstrators take to the streets in Berlin to call for urgent climate action. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Luca Bruno

In September 2019, it drew huge crowds in cities and towns around the world including 1.4 million protesters in Germany, according to organisers.

The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on its weekly rallies but the election campaign in Europe’s top economy has revitalised the

“The climate crisis cannot be solved through party politics alone,” Thunberg told reporters ahead of her appearance in Berlin.

“We can’t just vote for change, we also have to be active democratic citizens and go out on the streets and demand action.”


Greens as junior partner?

Around 60.4 million Germans are called to the polls on Sunday and most voters cite climate protection among their top priorities.

All three leading parties have said they aim to implement a climate protection agenda if elected, with the Greens presenting the most ambitious package of measures.

However the Fridays for Future activists have said even the Greens’ official programme falls short of what is needed to stick to the 1.5 degree Celsius temperature rise.

The Greens want to end coal energy use by 2030 instead of the current 2038. They also want the production of combustion engine cars to end from the same year.

While the party is expected to fall far short of its ambition to win the election Sunday and place Baerbock in the chancellery, polls indicate it has a good chance of joining a ruling coalition as a junior partner under Scholz or Laschet.

By Deborah Cole