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'Climate hysteria' is German 'non-word of the year'

January 14, 2020

Every year, a German "non-word of the year" is selected to highlight derogatory expressions. "Climate hysteria" is often used to discredit environmental protection efforts.

BG Streik in Europa 2019 l Klimaprotest in Hamburg, Deutschland
Image: picture alliance/dpa/A. Heimken

"Klimahysterie" (climate hysteria) has been named Germany's derogatory catchword of the year, announced the jury of the "Unwort des Jahres," (Non-Word of the Year) on Tuesday. 

The expression aims to "defame climate protection efforts and the climate protection movement and to discredit debates" on the topic, the jury of linguists from the Technical University of Darmstadt said.

In a year marked by the Fridays for Future movement initiated by teenage Swedish activist Greta Thunberg, many commentators and politicians have attempted to dismiss the global emergency as collective hysteria. For example, Alexander Gauland, prominent politician for the far-right Alternative for Germany (AFD) party said in June, "The AfD will not participate in the climate hysteria of the other parties."

Derogatory expression of the year

The Non-Word of the Year title aims to bring to light the media's use of language and to advance awareness of words which violate human dignity and the principles of democracy or lead to discrimination.

Established in 1991, the political buzzword was selected by the Society for German Language until 1994, when an independent jury on Darmstadt took over the yearly project. Anyone may propose a word, and the jury makes the final decision.

The jury received over the year 671 proposals from the public, amounting to 397 different expressions, including "Bauernbashing" (farmer-bashing), "Bevölkerungsexplosion" (population explosion), "Ökodikatur" (eco-dictatorship) or "Ethikmauer" (ethical wall).

In 2018, the winner was "anti-deportation industry," an expression accusing those who undertake legal support for deportees of doing so for financial profit. The previous year's Non-Word was the Donald Trump-inspired "alternative facts," while in 2016 the term "Volksverräter" ("traitor to the nation") came out on top, with the jury noting that the word is a "legacy of dictatorships," including that of National Socialism in Germany.

eg/als (dpa, AFP)