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As the Oxford English Dictionary announces the word that captures the spirit of 2017, Martin Fahey looks at whether one single word can really encapsulate a whole year.

So, the word of 2017 has just been revealed as … Youthquake – defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a significant cultural, political, or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people’.

The word hasn’t just been chosen because of the results of June’s election, which saw a totally unexpected surge of younger voters.

This youth engagement in politics carried on right through the summer, most notably recorded with the crowd chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ at Glastonbury in late June.

However, the largest spike in the use of the word was in September when, thanks to the precedent established in the UK, Youthquake was rapidly picked up and used by both press and politicians during New Zealand’s general election – and this set the word firmly on its way to become a fixture of political discourse.

Be honest, had you heard of it?

Although I personally hadn’t registered the word until I heard John Humphries interview Countdown’s Susie Dent on Friday’s Today on Radio 4, the word actually goes back to 1965, when the editor-in-chief of Vogue, Diana Vreeland, declared it the year of the youthquake.

In the January US editorial, she wrote: “The year’s in its youth, the youth in its year. … More dreamers. More doers. Here. Now. Youthquake 1965”.

The term does encapsulate an earthquake involving the youth of the day, which does sum up one of the main themes of 2017 for me.

I’m a great believer in involvement and engagement, especially as we see momentous change facing us from Brexit and the ongoing aftermath of the financial crash. We also face serious challenges ahead getting our political masters to continue focusing on the key issue of climate change.

At Mitsubishi Electric, we’ve always felt it is important to engage with all ages and this is part of the thinking behind our own primary school environmental education programme – The  Learning Curve, which seeks to promote recycling, re-use and renewables amongst tomorrow’s consumers. 

They after all, will hopefully become the youthquake of tomorrow and help drive us all towards a more sustainable future.

The Learning Curve Watch this short video on this award-winning primary school educational programme

Can you really sum up a year in a word?

The word of the year report intrigued me and a quick google found the OED website, which shows each word that sums up a whole year back to 2004 as listed below. 

  • OED Word of the Year

    2004 - Chav

    2005 - Sudoku

    2006 - Bovvered

    2007 - Carbon Footprint

    2008 - Credit Crunch

    2009 - Simples

    2010 - Big Society

    2011 - Squeezed Middle

    2012 - Omnishambles

    2013 - Selfie

    2014 - Vape

    2015 - *Tears of Laughter Emoji*

    2016 - Post-Truth


I’m not going to comment on ‘Chav’; ‘bovvered’; ‘simples’; or the ‘tears of laughter emoji’ which were previous year’s winners, but I was intrigued to see ‘Carbon footprint’ as the word of the year for 2007.

I remember that year well as it was 10 years ago that we first launched our Green Gateway approach to tackling energy use in our built environment, which is also where the idea for the Learning Curve came from. 

I’d like to think we played a small part in helping increase awareness of energy use and therefore helping ‘carbon footprint’ become word of the year but actually, we were obviously part of the wider zeitgeist at the time.  

It’s easy to see why ‘green’ issues have dropped off the list in subsequent years when you see ‘Credit Crunch’ as the winner for 2008 and this focus on finance does seem to have influenced other words of the year since.

Nothing is 'normal' any more

However, I think it’s now time for us to focus more on what we can do collectively and outside of the ‘normal’ ways of doing things, especially when you look at the 2016 word – Post-Truth, and see the rise in the use of ‘fake news’ to deny or weaken anything that is uncomfortable or challenging for big business, politicians, celebrities or egos.

If you have watched any of the Blue Planet II programmes recently, you will see hard evidence of the disastrous impact humanity is having on our planet. 

We’ve covered the subject of plastics in the ocean several times here on The Hub, as well as Donald Trump’s rejection of the Paris Climate Change Agreement.

With all this in mind, I’m therefore more than happy to celebrate ‘youthquake’ as we need even more people to become engaged in the seriously big issues facing our planet, both on a local and global scale.  

Who knows, if we can build the right momentum, we could even ensure that ‘renewables’ becomes the word of 2018.

Martin Fahey is Head of Sustainability & Commercial Business at Mitsubishi Electric and coordinator of the company’s Green Gateway programme. 

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