Cambridge Dictionary has named 'upcycling', the activity of making new items out of old or used things, as its Word of the Year 2019. 

Upcycling is a concrete action a single human being can take to make a difference

Wendalyn Nichols

Upcycling was chosen as the ‘Word of the Day’ which resonated most strongly with followers on the Dictionary’s Instagram account, @CambridgeWords. The noun – defined as the activity of making new furniture, objects, etc. out of old or used things or waste material – received more likes than any other ‘Word of the Day’ when shared on 4 July 2019. 

The number of times upcycling has been looked up on the Cambridge Dictionary website has risen by 181% since December of 2011, when it was first added to the online dictionary, and searches have doubled in the last year alone.

"We think it's the positive idea behind upcycling that appeals more than the word itself," said Wendalyn Nichols, Publishing Manager of the Cambridge Dictionary. "Stopping the progression of climate change, let alone reversing it, can seem impossible at times. Upcycling is a concrete action a single human being can take to make a difference.

"Lookups of upcycling reflect the momentum around individual actions to combat climate change — the youth activism sparked by Greta Thunberg; the growing trends of vegan, flexitarian and plant-based diets; reading and following the handbook There is No Planet B; or fashion designers upcycling clothes to create their latest collections." 

Other words on the shortlist for Word of the Year 2019 reflect the same concern with the effects of climate change, for instance:

carbon sink noun 

An area of forest that is large enough to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the earth's atmosphere and therefore to reduce the effect of global warming

compostable adjective 

Something that is compostable can be used as compost when it decays

preservation noun 

The act of keeping something the same or of preventing it from being damaged


The Cambridge Dictionary editors use data from the website, blogs, and social media to identify and prioritise new additions to the Dictionary. They identified upcycling as a word to include after noticing a spike in searches for the word in 2010.

A recent addition is the noun plastic footprint, defined as a measurement of the amount of plastic that someone uses and then discards, considered in terms of the resulting damage caused to the environment. This word, first identified by traditional citation gathering, received 1,048 votes in the New Words blog poll, with 61% of readers opting for the phrase to be added to Cambridge Dictionary.

Cambridge University Press has been publishing dictionaries for learners of English since 1995. Cambridge Dictionary began offering these dictionaries completely free of charge online in 1999. Celebrating its 20th birthday this year, Cambridge Dictionary is the top learner dictionary website on the planet, currently serving 394 million unique visitors a year.

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