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Germany: 'Climate terrorists' chosen as 'non-word' of 2022

January 10, 2023

The jury explained the term "climate terrorists" shifted and diffused the focus of the debate around the climate crisis. German linguists award the prize for words used in a discriminating or misleading manner.

Deutschland, München | Protest der Gruppe Letzten Generation
Image: Michaela Rehle/REUTERS

The term "climate terrorists" has been named Germany's "non-word" for 2022, according to a jury of linguists in Marburg in Hessen who said the term discredited people who campaigned for climate protection measures and compliance with the Paris Climate Agreement.

The jury criticized the phrase "climate terrorists" for defaming and criminalizing activists. The climate crisis, Russia's war on Ukraine and the migration discourse dominated the search for the "non-word" of 2022. 

The term 'climate terrorists' shifts focus of the climate debate 

According to the jury, non-violent protest and democratic resistance is placed in the context of being anti-state by equating climate activists with terrorism. The focus of the debate shifts from what the jury considered to be "justified substantive demands" on how to deal with the activists.

Germany's 'non-word' of the year - illustration
The term "climate terrorists" was used in public discourse in Germany after a string of climate protests disrupted motorwaysImage: Christoph Soeder/dpa/picture alliance

By using the term, the global threat posed by climate change is no longer in the center of the debate. Similarly, the activists' demand that effective political measures be taken to combat the crisis is also not given enough attention. Instead, the focus of the public debate shifts on how to react to the protesters with political or legal ramifications, the jury explained. 

Raising awareness for misleading or inhumane use of language

In the "Non-Word of the Year" (Unwort des Jahres), inhumane or inappropriate terms that violate the principle of human dignity, misleadingly gloss over something negative or discriminate have been selected since 1991, according to experts.

The jury, which is mainly made up of linguists, wants to draw attention to "undifferentiated, obfuscating or defamatory public language use" overall and raise people's awareness of the issue.

Last year, the term "pushback" was chosen as the "non-word" of the year. The committee explained that it glossed over an inhumane process of pushing back asylum-seekers and migrants at the borders.

los/rs (epd, AFP, dpa)