• Anthropocene •
Pronunciation: (UK) æn-thrê-pê-seen, (US) æn-thrah- • Hear it!
Part of Speech: Noun
Meaning: (Geology) The current geological epoch, beginning in the 18th century, when human activities have impacted the environment, ecology and climate of the Earth.
Notes: Here is a new word, taking its place alongside (the) Holocene "the epoch since the Ice Age (11,700 years ago) and (the) Pleistocene "the preceding epoch (2.6 million to 11,700 years ago). Like these words, it requires capitalization and the word the before it. Also, like Holocene and Pleistocene, today's word may be used without a suffix as an adjective.
In Play: Words ending on the combining form -cene refer to fuzzy eras, defined by some dominant feature. The Anthropocene is the era in which humans began dominating the Earth: "Some believe that the Anthropocene began with the Industrial Revolution." Using the seas as a garbage dump is a feature of the Anthropocene epoch. One flicker of hope in the Anthropocene era is the reduction of the size of the hole in the ozone layer as a result of the worldwide ban on chlorofluorocarbons.
Word History: The short history of today's Good Word began in the 1980s when it was coined by American biologist Eugene Stoermer then popularized by Dutch atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen in the 2000s. It is a combination of Greek anthropos "male or female person" + -cene, a Latinized combining form of Greek kainos "new, fresh". Anthropos looks like it might have come from ander- "man" + ops "eye, face, looks", maybe "having a man-like face" worn down over time. If so, it comes from PIE aner- "man (male)" found in Sanskrit nar- Armenian ayr and Welsh ner "a man". The combining form -cene goes back to PIE ken-/kon- "new, fresh", which we find in Russian na-čin-at' "begin" and Latin re-cen(t)s "fresh, young". (Today's Good Word discovery was made by long-time contributor George Kovac of Miami, Florida, who, happily, shared it with us.)