Turning Points


Turning Points
© PureSolution; lianez


Each year, the Society for the German Language (GfdS) publishes a Wort des Jahres (“word of the year”), in which it ranks those words or phrases that defined the public discourse over the previous 12 months. In its latest review, the GfdS chose Zeitenwende (“turning point”), used by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in reference to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, as word of the year.

There is what I like to call a cosmic significance between sustainability and Germany’s words of the year over time. The GfdS set up the list in 1971, and the term “climate protection” made third place that year, suggesting that Germany—even at that point in time—had the awareness of what is at stake globally right now.

Over the past half century, there have been other words of the year connected with climate change and the environment. In 2007, the GfdS’ review chose the term “climate catastrophe” and in 2019 the Oxford University Press, which conducts a similar poll, chose “climate emergency” as word of the year in the United States and in the United Kingdom. Ironically, in the same year “climate hysteria” was chosen as Germany’s Unwort des Jahres (“worst word of the year” or “non-word of the year”).

Also, for 2022, the selected German Unwort des Jahres is connected with sustainability, as the term Klimaterroristen (“climate terrorists”) was chosen. “It is a blanket discredit of people who advocate climate protection measures,” the jury panel said in explaining its decision. “Anyone who refers to climate activists as climate terrorists is placing non-violent forms of protest, civil disobedience and democratic resistance in the context of violence and hostility to the state,” it further argued.

The selection of Klimaterroristen as Unwort des Jahres expresses the growing awareness of the negative effects of human activities on the environment, showing that actions have consequences and there is need for more responsible and sustainable behavior. The choice of this “non-word of the year” is a call to action for individuals, governments and companies to take more drastic measures to address environmental issues. But must individuals be as drastic as those of the so-called “climate gluers”?

Climate gluers refer to groups, such as the environmental alliance of the so-called “Last Generation,” that involve young people gluing themselves to roads or other sites of interest to draw spectacular attention to the threat of climate change.

Amongst the various suggestions for the Unwort des Jahres in 2022, the term “climate gluers,” besides others, was submitted particularly frequently. While it did not make it into the top three for the worst word of the year, ironically it was placed fifth as Wort des Jahres in 2022. Sometimes the distance between worst and best is only measured by success.

Green Day’s 1997 song “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)” undoubtedly was a clear success at its time of release and is about moving on from past experiences. The opening lyric, “Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road. Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go,” evokes reflection on Zeitenwende as well as sustainability in general. I interpret it as a call for listeners to take control of their lives and make sustainable choices for their future.

STAY SuSTAYnable!  

Apu Gosalia is a sustainability expert. He can be reached at

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