Dictionary.com has named “existential” as its word of the year for 2019, according to The Associated Press.
“In our data, it speaks to this sense of grappling with our survival, both literally and figuratively, that defined so much of the discourse,” John Kelly, senior research editor for the site, told the AP ahead of the Monday announcement.
While ongoing environmental crises and gun violence contributed to the selection of the word, so too did the character of Forky in the film “Toy Story 4,” a plastic spork who struggles with whether his true identity is as a utensil or a toy.
“Forky underscores how this sense of grappling can also inspire us to ask big questions about who we are, about our purpose,” Kelly told the AP.
Searches for “existential” also spiked when both climate activist Greta Thunberg and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) described climate change as an “existential crisis,” as well as when former Vice President Joe Biden said President Trump was an “existential threat,” according to the AP.
Search data is a major factor in the selection of the winner but not the only determinant.
The word also cropped up in coverage of ongoing mass demonstrations in Hong Kong, U.S.-China tensions and a fire that severely damaged Paris’s iconic Notre Dame cathedral.
“We started to see existential in the dialogue beginning in January and all the way through the year,” Dictionary.com CEO Jennifer Steeves-Kiss told the AP. “This is a consistent theme that we saw in our data, but it also was leveraged across many different important questions of our time.”