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  1. ITV Report

Word of the year encapsulates world in crisis – but what is it?

Toy Story 4's Forky, climate change activist Greta Thunberg and Donald Trump are said to have inspired the word of the year Credit: AP

Climate change, gun violence, the very nature of democracy and an angst-ridden little movie star called Forky helped propel “existential” to Dictionary.com’s word of the year.

Once made popular by thinkers like Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre who embraced existentialism as a movement, the choice is now said to reflect the high-stakes threats and crises that have occurred throughout 2019.

Dictionary.com have crunched the data for another year to find out why it's such a popular word to search for.

Toy Story 4's Forky deals with an existential crisis in the popular children's film. Credit: PA

John Kelly, senior research editor for the site - who have been picking a word of the year since 2010 - said the "sense of grappling with our survival" might have pushed the word up the rankings.

The word appeared in sustained searches at Dictionary.com in the aftermath of wildfires and Hurricane Dorian, and mass shootings in New Zealand and Texas.

It also appeared in TV and film with breakout star of Toy Story 4 Forky - a soiled, white plastic spork treasured by character Bonnie - who deals with existentialism in the film.

Mr Kelly said: “Forky underscores how this sense of grappling can also inspire us to ask big questions about who we are, about our purpose."

Greta Thunberg's message of a existential climate crisis spiked searches for the word. Credit: PA

Search spikes for “existential” occurred after both Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders and 16-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg characterised climate change as an “existential” crisis.

And Oxford Dictionaries picked “climate emergency” as its word of the year, noting usage evidence that reflects the “ethos, mood, or preoccupations of the passing year”.

Another spike occurred when former Vice President Joe Biden, also vying for the Democratic presidential nod, painted President Donald Trump as an “existential threat” to decency.

The fire at Notre Dame is one of the events linked to the word of the year. Credit: Benoit Moser/Pompiers de Paris/PA

The word "existential" dates to 1685, deriving from Late Latin’s “existentialis”.

Dictionary.com defines existential 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”.

Enter Martin Heidegger, Karl Jaspers, Gabriel Marcel, Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre, thinkers who moulded and embraced existentialism, among other movements.

But climate, guns and the impeachment crisis for Donald Trump were just a few areas that seemed to frame debate in existential terms this year.

So did the Hong Kong protests, the Notre Dame fire, tensions between the United States and China, and Big Tech’s privacy and fake news problems.

Jennifer Steeves-Kiss, Dictionary.com’s chief executive officer said: “We started to see existential in the dialogue beginning in January and all the way through the year,

“This is a consistent theme that we saw in our data, but it also was leveraged across many different important questions of our time.”