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by | Jan 16, 2024

Oxford Children’s Word of the Year 2023: Climate Change

Climate Change is the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year 2023.

A third of children chose climate change as their word of the year, narrowly followed by war and almost a quarter choosing coronation.

Why did children chose climate change?

The research, which asked over 5,000 children across the UK aged 6-14, revealed young people’s desire for action with emotive words such as ‘need’ and ‘important’ occurring frequently in their statements. Impact on the wider world, their current lives and the future were cited as the main reason for the word choice, whilst ‘sad’, ‘scared’ and ‘worried’ were the most common responses by young people when asked how the word makes them feel.

Analysis of the of the Oxford Children’s Corpus, the largest children’s English language database in the world containing over half a billion words, showed the topic of climate change is regularly written about by children. Studying the most recent addition to the Children’s Corpus, the stories submitted for the BBC 500 Words 2023 story competition, ‘stop’ is revealed as the most common word used in the context, underlining children’s resolve to alter the course of climate change. 

The research also demonstrated how much current affairs affects children’s language. Of the children who selected war (31 per cent) as their chosen word, more than one in ten (13 per cent) mentioned the ‘news’ when asked why. The crowning of King Charles III was another key event in current affairs which impacted children, with many citing ‘celebration’ in relation to almost a quarter (24 per cent) choosing the word coronation.

What about slang words?

Other findings revealed bro to be the top slang word chosen by 42% of children followed by lol (24%) and slay (17%). Along with bro being used as an informal term to address friends, research found children also use it as a ‘positive politeness’ strategy to confirm solidarity with another person whilst expressing admonishment.

“This year marks the tenth year of Children’s Word of the Year, and over the decade we have seen the significant role current affairs plays for children’s language development. The choice of ‘climate change’ not only demonstrates how attuned children are to the news and their environment, but the research also reveals their willingness to engage with meaningful change. Whether it’s understanding how children use slang phrases or what word reflects the past year, it’s imperative we continue to support children’s language development so they have the means and vocabulary to express themselves.”  Helen Freeman, Director of Oxford Children’s

“Through our work with young people, we’ve seen first-hand how willing children are to learn and engage with topics like climate change, so we’re not surprised to see it selected as Children’s Word of the Year. Sometimes we greatly underestimate children’s abilities to understand complex issues, so it’s encouraging that this research shows children are engaged and understand the impacts of climate change. We also mustn’t ignore the findings from the language research which demonstrate young people’s desire for action. Young people not only recognise that climate change is an issue, but they’re also seeing the importance of tackling it. No-one will feel the negative effects of climate change more than the next generation – or the positive effects of the action we take against it now.”  Amy Meek, CEO and co-founder of Kids Against Plastic

Oxford Children’s Word of the Year Report 2023

This year marks a decade of Children’s Word of the Year, as experts and academic researchers in the Children’s Language department have analysed the evolution of children’s language and how it is used to reflect their emotions and experiences. In response to the latest findings, the Children’s Language department at OUP have published the Oxford Children’s Word of the Year 2023 report, which you can now read in full.

How does it work?

Over 3,000 children aged 6-14 across the UK were asked for their suggested word of 2023 via our Education Research Forum. Based on the most common responses and themes in their answers, three words – climate changewar and coronation – were shortlisted. A further 1,450 children were asked for their favourite slang word of 2023 via a CHILDWISE survey. The three words, along with the three shortlisted slang words, were then put to vote by a further 1,000 children via market research agency Opinium to decide their overall word of 2023.

Climate and Vocabulary

If  you are looking to explore topics in the world around you with your child at home, the following links may help:

Books to build Vocabulary

Oxford Roald Dahl Thesaurus

Susan Rennie, Quentin Blake, Roald Dahl | Age 8+

This is a real thesaurus for all chiddlers and even some adult human beans. It features hundreds of spliffling words used and created by the world’s best storyteller, Roald Dahl, together with useful synonyms, related words and phrases, idioms and word origins.

Buy on Amazon >

Big Words for Little People

Helen Mortimer, Cristina Trapanese | Age 3+

A series of picture books designed to help you talk about the ups and downs of first experiences and new emotions with your child. Created by language experts at Oxford University Press, each book contains carefully-chosen feature words to support early years learning and equip children with the language skills to develop and grow, including Happiness, Calmness and Doing your Best.

Find out More >