‘Heisszeit’ — which means “harm age” — is used to designate climate change as a whole.

This figure shows the predicted distribution of temperature change due to global warming from Hadley Centre HadCM3 climate model — a Heisszeit. (via Wikipedia)

While Germany’s summer was unusually hot, the word wasn’t used for that, but for a deeper problem.

Literally speaking, Heisszeit means “hot time”, but it’s used as a way to refer to global warming as a sort of counterpoint to “Ice Age”, which is “Eiszeit” — a clever play on words.

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The play on words was chosen by the Association for the German Language to represent “the most serious global phenomena of the early 21st century, climate change,” the association said. They chose it not only because of the gravity of the problem but also because it offers a nice linguistical twist.

Reactions were mixed — while most people praised the decision, others (especially on Twitter) said they’d never heard the word before. However, this is unsurprising given how the word is selected.

The Gesellschaft für Deutsche Sprache (the Association for the German Language) has been annually selecting a word every year since 1977. The word is chosen to provide a “verbal index fossil”, and must represent an important topic. The frequency with which the word is used by the media and the general population is not the deciding factor — instead, the selection is done based on its significance and linguistic quality.

This year, the runner-up was “Funklochrepublik”, which refers to no-network zones in Germany, which was also a hot topic this year. The third pick was “Ankerzentren,” which literally means “anchor centers,” and is referred to admission centers for refugees. However, here, it’s not about a literal anchor, but rather about an acronym “An(kunft)” (arrival), “k(ommunale Verteilung)” (municipal distribution), “E(ntscheidung)” (decision) and “R(ückführung)” (return).

Last year, the winner was “Jamaika-Aus,” which alluded to a political coalition by three parties, whose flags featured the colors black, green and yellow, which are also present on the flag of Jamaica.