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

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.

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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