For some reason, Cambridge Dictionary has chosen upcycling” as word of the year 2019, about which they say:

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.

The term appears to have been in use well before the year 2011, for instance www.logophilialimited.com suggests the following earliest usage:

Recycling in many cases means “downcycling” — in particular cases, however, it can also mean “upcycling”. —James Mason, “Design for Manufacturability,” American Society for Mechanical Engineers, March 1, 1994

But even earlier usages appear to be available from Google Books such as:

Whether we should have a upcycling kind of product that comes in at the lower end of the scale, with a lower brightness; or whether we should remain at the 80 or 81 brightness in terms of satisfying the market. So, it's a real concern from a ...

From: Wastepaper I, Demand in the 90's Miller Freeman, 1990 - Recycling industry

Can anyone pin down the earliest available usage of the “term of the year”? Was the term actually coined in the ‘80s?

  • 1
    “For some reason,” seems a bit disingenuous to me—that makes it sound like it would be a mystery to anyone why they would make that choice, when in reality they pretty clearly explain their reasoning, namely that it was their most-liked Word of the Day this year, and got twice as many searches this year as it had in previous years.
    – KRyan
    Jan 5, 2020 at 20:03
  • Why do you care when "term of the year" was first used???
    – Hot Licks
    Jan 5, 2020 at 20:38
  • According to Google Ngram, the term was first used in print in 1986.
    – Apollonian
    Jan 5, 2020 at 21:07
  • They say the word was first added to their dictionary in December 2011, not that 2011 was the first use. That 1994 is the earliest in the OED.
    – Hugo
    Jan 6, 2020 at 8:24
  • @Hugo - yes, the word was added to the dictionary some 30 years later.
    – user 66974
    Jan 6, 2020 at 8:34


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