Jeder neue Trend, jedes Verfahren, jede Technik verlangt neue Wortschöpfungen, die Übersetzer und Dolmetscher fasziniert aufspüren und übertragen. In ihrem englischsprachigen Artikel stellt Abigail Dahlberg diverse Neologismen der englischen Sprache aus dem Bereich Umwelt und Nachhaltigkeit vor. Weitere findet ihr in den Links unserer Glossarsammlung, zu denen Abigail eine ganze Reihe beigesteuert hat.

Grüne Pflanze, frisch gekeimt
Photo by Mikaela Shannon on Unsplash

Have you tried plogging? Are you ecosexual? Do you follow the latest trends in trashion? If so, then congratulations, you are woke! Whether you jog and pick up litter at the same time, select your dating partners based on their environmental lifestyle, or repurpose waste into new items of clothing, you have more words than ever to express your life choices. In fact, just as our climate is changing, the language we use to describe these developments is also evolving at a dramatic pace.

Some of these environmental neologisms are fleeting in nature, vanishing into the ether just as quickly as they appeared. Others find their way into our dictionaries and are even lauded as words of the year (more on that later). Just as waste pickers scavenge landfills looking for valuable materials, we must also dig deeper to find the treasure that we can recycle time and again in our texts.

Older than dirt

While many of today’s environmental buzzwords are new terms or phrases, several ideas have seen their definition evolve over time. Take sustainability for example. Even though it seems to be the mot du jour, sustainability actually dates back to the late 1600s when forester Hans Carl von Carlowitz coined the notion of Nachhaltigkeit. Back then, sustainability had a rather narrow definition relating to forestry practices. In the late 1980s, a UN report popularised this idea as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Since then, the use of ‘sustainability’ and its close friend ‘green’ has exploded.

In fact, some argue that sustainability is now such a blurry and overused concept that it has become meaningless. Companies have appropriated and misappropriated the term in a practice that sometimes verges on greenwashing. Mining companies that turn off their trucks while refuelling? Sustainable. Farmers that use thousands of gallons of water to grow produce but harvest using energy-saving practices? Sustainable. E-waste collection schemes that divert computers from local landfills but actually end up shipping them abroad? Well, you get the idea.

Unchartered waters

With bushfires raging in Australia and polar icecaps melting at alarming rates, the climate is making headlines more than ever. These massive challenges for our planet demand greater awareness of the situation and of potential solutions. From climate refugees to climate deniers, from climate disruption to climate grief, all kinds of new words are cropping up to express ideas related to climate change, some of them using wonderful imagery.

Take climate canary, for instance. This term harks back to the early days of coal-mining. Miners would commonly take canaries into mines to alert them to the presence of toxic gases. If the canary stopped singing, then miners needed to leave sharpish before they succumbed to a similar fate. Similarly, a climate canary is a species, organism or area that serves as a kind of early-warning system because it is affected by climate change earlier than others, such as fish species that are sensitive to rising water temperatures.

On the solutions side, the sponge city is another new metaphor. Just like a bath sponge, sponge cities are designed to capture and absorb rainwater in an effort to prevent flooding and conserve water. Mainly popular in China to date, sponge cities feature rooftops covered with plants and permeable pavements that store excess runoff for use in irrigation and reuse in households after suitable treatment.

Making waves

Words used to describe environmental issues are not just in the headlines; they are also making headlines. Collins Dictionary, for instance, selected single-use as its word of the year in 2018. Last year’s selection? Climate strike (“a form of protest in which people absent themselves from education or work in order to join demonstrations demanding action to counter climate change”), a term whose use soared a hundred-fold in 2019, according to Collins lexicographers. Rewilding, the practice of returning land to a wild state, also made the top ten. Other environmental terminology shifts making headlines came courtesy of the Guardian, which altered its in-house style guide to recommend the use of the terms, climate emergency, climate crisis or breakdown rather than climate change. It also prefers global heating over global warming.

Breaking new ground?

Indeed, newspapers, journals and social media sites are some of the best sources of neologisms. Following thought leaders in the environmental sphere on channels like Twitter and LinkedIn is a great way to get insights into the language that they use. One note of caution, though: as translators and writers, it behoves us to exercise caution when using neologisms. As the Economist Style Guide notes, “Before grabbing the latest usage, ask yourself a few questions. Is it likely to pass the test of time? If not, are you using it to show just how cool you are? Has it already become a cliché? Does it do a job no other word or expression does just as well? Does it rob the language of a useful or well-liked meaning? Is it being adapted to make the writer’s prose sharper, crisper, more euphonious, easier to understand—in other words, better? Or to make it seem more with it (yes, that was cool once, just as cool is cool now), more pompous, more bureaucratic or more politically correct—in other words, worse?” Or more woke, as the cool kids say in 2020.

DVÜD-Gastautorin Abigail Dahlberg stammt aus Großbritannien und hat sich als Übersetzerin seit fast zwanzig Jahren ganz auf den Bereich Recycling und Entsorgung spezialisiert. Nach Abschluss eines Masterstudiums in Übersetzen und Dolmetschen in Edinburgh arbeitete sie einige Jahre als In-house-Übersetzerin bei einer Fachzeitschrift für die Entsorgungswirtschaft im Schwarzwald. Seit 2005 ist sie in Kansas CIty im Mittleren Westen der USA ansässig, wo sie ihre beide Unternehmen, Print Translations und Small World Copy, betreibt und als Präsidentin des regionalen Übersetzer- und Dolmetscherverbandes MICATA tätig ist.

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