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Dictionary.Com’s Ominous Word of the Year Should Inspire Us to Take 2020 by Storm

Mary Grace Garis

Mary Grace GarisDecember 4, 2019

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I’m a word person. It’s why I didn’t just like, trip and fall into journalism, so when Dictionary.com announces their word of the year, my ears are perked. Your ears should be, too. This years word is the final note of our decade, a search result that looms boldly, italicized, underlined if you’re some sort of aggressive formatting monster. It’s a word that darkly encapsulates how we question our lives, our world, and the role we play in it. The word of the year is “existential.”

Existential is defined as “of or relating to existence” and “of, relating to, or characteristic of philosophical existentialism; concerned with the nature of human existence as determined by the individual’s freely made choices.” To take that a step further because I hate when definitions are self-referential, existentialism is a philosophy relating to an “individual’s unique position as a self-determining agent responsible for making meaningful, authentic choices in a universe.”

This makes sense at a point in history where we have a hyper awareness of how the world is falling apart, and what our role is to keep it together. Will our sustainable food, tooth paste, and toilet paper fight the good fight against climate change?  How do we convince idiot politicians to make gun control regulations so there aren’t more mass shootings than days in a year? What can be done in the way of reproductive rights, and how do we help those in states with de facto abortion bans? “Existential” suggests “existential dread,” and these questions inspire an urge to help as much as they invoke a fear of helplessness.

Many of us are also in a sort of existential crisis, trying to unravel who we are and what we should do next. Many of us are the product of burnout culture, and finding effective self-care methods are part of are survival, be it big or small. We’re turning to therapy and astrology (my two faves!) to demystify just who we are and what we should work on. It all sounds very exhausting and yet when you think existentially, you allow bigger possibilities for yourself.

Existential can sound like weighted word, but it’s really about considering your role within the world, both your world and the world of others. It implies a sort of curiousness, a quandary, and a sublimated desire to maybe be better (unless your move is to go full nihilist). So as we close the decade pondering how we might make the life we live much more live-able, let’s use the 20s as a springboard to finally act. That way, we can close out 2020 with another word: “Fulfilled.”

Or “rutabaga,” which I also really like.

Learn how to channel your “sacred rage” in 2020 with a little help from Sophia Bush.  And here’s how to navigate protests and activism when big crowds trigger your anxiety.

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