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Cartoon 'Spork' Helped Drive Dictionary's Word of the Year

Forky from 'Toy Story 4' understands 'existential' better than many of us, per Dictionary.com
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Dec 2, 2019 11:28 AM CST
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This Sunday photo shows the word "existential" in a dictionary.   (AP Photo/Jenny Kane)

(Newser) – Climate change, gun violence, the very nature of democracy, and an angsty little movie star called Forky helped propel "existential" to Dictionary.com's word of the year. The choice reflects months of high-stakes threats and crises, real and pondered, across the news and the world, and throughout 2019. "In our data, it speaks to this sense of grappling with our survival, both literally and figuratively, that defined so much of the discourse," says John Kelly, senior research editor for the site. The word earned top-of-mind awareness in sustained searches at Dictionary.com in the aftermath of wildfires and Hurricane Dorian, and mass shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, and El Paso, Texas. It also reared itself in presidential politics and pop culture, including via Forky the white plastic spork who was the breakout star of Toy Story 4.

The soiled utensil is convinced his destiny is in the trash, until he embraces his purpose as a treasured toy of kindergartner Bonnie. "Forky underscores how this sense of grappling can also inspire us to ask big questions about who we are, about our purpose," Kelly tells the AP. Dictionary.com crunches lookup and other data to decide which word to anoint each year, which it's been doing since 2010. Among search spikes for "existential" were those that occurred after both Bernie Sanders and 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg characterized climate change as an "existential" crisis, as well as when Joe Biden painted President Trump as an "existential threat" to decency. Oxford Dictionaries, meanwhile, picked "climate emergency" as its word of the year, noting usage evidence that reflects the "ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year."

(Read more dictionary stories.)

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