Merriam-Webster chose vaccine as the word of the year for 2021
New York With an expanded definition to reflect the times, Merriam-Webster proclaimed a ubiquitous truth as the word of the year 2021: the vaccine.
“That word was very loud in our data every single day in 2021,” Merriam-Webster’s traveling editor Peter Sokolowski told The Associated Press before Monday’s announcement.
“It really represents two different stories. One is the scientific story, which is the remarkable speed at which vaccines were developed. But there are also debates about politics, politics, and political affiliation,” he said. “It’s one word for those two huge stories,” he said.
The choice comes after “Vax” as the word of the year from the people who publish the Oxford English Dictionary. It comes after Merriam-Webster named “pandemic” at the top of searches last year on its website.
“The pandemic was the gun that went off and now we have the after-effects,” Sokolovsky said.
At Merriam-Webster, searches for the “vaccine” increased by 601% during 2020, when the first US vaccine was given in New York in December after rapid development, and months of speculation and discussions about efficacy. The world’s first jab happened earlier that month in the UK.
Compared to 2019, when there was little urgency or chatter about vaccines, Merriam-Webster recorded a 1,048% increase in searches this year. Sokolowsky said the controversy over unfair distribution and mandates for vaccines and boosters has kept interest high. So did the vaccine hesitation and the dispute over vaccine passports.
The word “vaccine” was not born in a single day, or due to a single pandemic. Sokolowsky said the first known use dates back to 1882, but earlier references appeared regarding fluids from cowpox blisters used for inoculation. It was borrowed from the New Latin word “vaccine”, which goes back to the feminine Latin “vaccine”, which means “from or from a cow”. The Latin word for cow is “vaca,” a word that may be close to the Sanskrit “vasa,” according to Merriam-Webster.
Inoculation, on the other hand, goes back to 1714, referring in some sense to the act of injecting a “vaccine”.
Earlier this year, Merriam-Webster added to its online entry “Vaccine” to cover all the talk about mRNA vaccines, or messenger vaccines like the COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
While other dictionary companies choose words of the year by panel, Merriam-Webster bases its selection on search data, paying close attention to sudden spikes and, more recently, annual increases in searches after de-greening. The company has been announcing the word of the year since 2008. Among the runner-ups in the 2021 biography are:
The Mutiny: The interest was prompted by the deadly January 6 siege of the US Capitol. The arrests are continuing, as are congressional hearings on the attack on President Donald Trump’s supporters. Some of Trump’s allies have resisted the subpoenas, including Steve Bannon.
Sokolovsky said searches for the word increased 61,000% during 2020.
Infrastructure: President Joe Biden was able to deliver what Trump has often talked about but never materialized: a bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law. When Biden proposed helping with broadband access, aged care and preschool, the conversation changed not just from roads and bridges but from “pictorial infrastructure,” Sokolowski said.
Many people have asked, what is infrastructure if it is not made of steel or concrete? Infrastructure, in Latin, means what is under the structure.
Perseverance: It’s the name of NASA’s newest Mars probe. It landed on February 18, 2021. “Perseverance is the most advanced craft that NASA has sent to the Red Planet, with a name that embodies NASA’s passion and our nation’s ability to meet and overcome challenges,” the space agency said.
The name was thought of by Alexander Mather, a 14-year-old seventh grader at Lake Braddock High School in Burke, Virginia. Participate in an essay contest organized by NASA. He was one of 28,000 K-12 students to submit entries.
Nomad: The word was her moment with the 2020 release of ‘Nomadland’. She won three Oscars in April 2021, including Best Picture, Director (Chloe Chow) and Actress (Frances McDormand). Zhao became the first woman of color to win Best Director.
Jake Coyle, the film’s writer for the Associated Press, described the independent success as “a frank meditation on solitude, grief, and grit. He wrote that it “struck a chord in a year wracked by pandemic.” It was made for an unexpected Oscar hero: a movie about people drawn to the margins that took center stage.”
Other words in the Top 10 for Merriam-Webster: cicada (we had an invasion), trustee (the Cleveland Indians became the Cleveland Guardians), meta (the new noble name of Facebook’s parent company), cisgender (a gender identity corresponding to one’s gender assigned at birth ), wake up (charged with politics and political correctness) and mirrors (a tropical tree and the word that won the Scripps 2021 National Spelling Bee for 14-year-old Zaila Avant-Garde).
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