Loading...

Merriam-Webster Chooses Vaccine as the 2021 Word of the Year

November 29, 2021by Leanne Italie, Associated Press
Merriam-Webster Chooses Vaccine as the 2021 Word of the Year
A sign directs motorist to a vaccination site at National Jewish Hospital on March 6, 2021, in east Denver. Merriam-Webster has declared vaccine its 2021 word of the year. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — With an expanded definition to reflect the times, Merriam-Webster has declared an omnipresent truth as its 2021 word of the year: vaccine.

“This was a word that was extremely high in our data every single day in 2021,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told The Associated Press ahead of Monday’s announcement.

“It really represents two different stories. One is the science story, which is this remarkable speed with which the vaccines were developed. But there’s also the debates regarding policy, politics and political affiliation. It’s one word that carries these two huge stories,” he said.

The selection follows “vax” as word of the year from the folks who publish the Oxford English Dictionary. And it comes after Merriam-Webster chose “pandemic” as tops in lookups last year on its online site.

“The pandemic was the gun going off and now we have the aftereffects,” Sokolowski said.

At Merriam-Webster, lookups for “vaccine” increased 601% over 2020, when the first U.S. shot was administered in New York in December after quick development, and months of speculation and discussion over efficacy. The world’s first jab occurred earlier that month in the UK.

Compared to 2019, when there was little urgency or chatter about vaccines, Merriam-Webster logged an increase of 1,048% in lookups this year. Debates over inequitable distribution, vaccine mandates and boosters kept interest high, Sokolowski said. So did vaccine hesitancy and friction over vaccine passports.

The word “vaccine” wasn’t birthed in a day, or due to a single pandemic. The first known use stretches back to 1882 but references pop up earlier related to fluid from cowpox pustules used in inoculations, Sokolowski said. It was borrowed from the New Latin “vaccina,” which goes back to Latin’s feminine “vaccinus,” meaning “of or from a cow.” The Latin for cow is “vacca,” a word that might be akin to the Sanskrit “vasa,” according to Merriam-Webster.

Inoculation, on the other hand, dates to 1714, in one sense referring to the act of injecting an “inoculum.”

Earlier this year, Merriam-Webster added to its online entry for “vaccine” to cover all the talk of mRNA vaccines, or messenger vaccines such as those for COVID-19 developed by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

While other dictionary companies choose words of the year by committee, Merriam-Webster bases its selection on lookup data, paying close attention to spikes and, more recently, year-over-year increases in searches after weeding out evergreens. The company has been declaring a word of the year since 2008. Among its runners-up in the word biography of 2021:

INSURRECTION: Interest was driven by the deadly Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol. Arrests continue, as do congressional hearings over the attack by supporters of President Donald Trump. Some of Trump’s allies have resisted subpoenas, including Steve Bannon.

Searches for the word increased by 61,000% over 2020, Sokolowksi said.

INFRASTRUCTURE: President Joe Biden was able to deliver what Trump often spoke of but never achieved: A bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law. When Biden proposed help with broadband access, eldercare and preschool, conversation changed from not only roads and bridges but “figurative infrastructure,” Sokolowski said.

“Many people asked, what is infrastructure if it’s not made out of steel or concrete? Infrastructure, in Latin, means underneath the structure,” he said.

PERSEVERANCE: It’s the name of NASA’s latest Mars rover. It landed Feb. 18, 2021. “Perseverance is the most sophisticated rover NASA has ever sent to the Red Planet, with a name that embodies NASA’s passion, and our nation’s capability, to take on and overcome challenges,” the space agency said.

The name was thought up by Alexander Mather, a 14-year-old seventh-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia. He participated in an essay contest organized by NASA. He was one of 28,000 K-12 students to submit entries.

NOMAD: The word had its moment with the 2020 release of the film “Nomadland.” It went on to win three Oscars in April 2021, including best picture, director (Chloé Zhao) and actress (Frances McDormand). Zhao became the first woman of color to win best director.

The AP’s film writer Jake Coyle called the indie success “a plain-spoken meditation on solitude, grief and grit. He wrote that it “struck a chord in a pandemic-ravaged year. It made for an unlikely Oscar champ: A film about people who gravitate to the margins took center stage.”

Other words in Merriam-Webster’s Top 10: Cicada (we had an invasion), guardian (the Cleveland Indians became the Cleveland Guardians), meta (the lofty new name of Facebook’s parent company), cisgender (a gender identity that corresponds to one’s sex assigned at birth), woke (charged with politics and political correctness) and murraya (a tropical tree and the word that won the 2021 Scripps National Spelling Bee for 14-year-old Zaila Avant-garde).

___

Follow Leanne Italie on Twitter at http://twitter.com/litalie

In The News

Health

Voting

In The News

January 27, 2022
by Dan McCue
Garland Updates Bipartisan Group of Election Officials on Threat Status

WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland held a virtual discussion with a bipartisan group of election officials on Wednesday,... Read More

WASHINGTON — U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland held a virtual discussion with a bipartisan group of election officials on Wednesday, providing them with an update on the threats that have been investigated and addressed in the past several weeks. Among the updates, the Justice Department’s Election... Read More

January 27, 2022
by Dan McCue
South Carolina Urges 4th Circuit to Lift Injunction on 'Fetal Heartbeat' Abortion Law

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, on Thursday heard the first day of oral arguments in a... Read More

WASHINGTON — A federal appeals court in Richmond, Virginia, on Thursday heard the first day of oral arguments in a lawsuit challenging South Carolina’s “fetal heartbeat” abortion law. The proceedings came as the nation awaits a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court on a case out... Read More

January 27, 2022
by Tom Ramstack
Breyer’s Supreme Court Departure Gets Mixed Reaction on Capitol Hill

WASHINGTON — Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen G. Breyer officially announced his retirement from the court Thursday. After... Read More

WASHINGTON — Associate Justice of the Supreme Court Stephen G. Breyer officially announced his retirement from the court Thursday. After his colleagues told media outlets on Wednesday the announcement was coming, Democrats generally praised Breyer for his liberal stances protecting abortion, voting rights, the Affordable Care... Read More

January 27, 2022
by Reece Nations
Texas Gov. Abbott Aims to Create Parental Bill of Rights 

LEWISVILLE, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently revealed a proposal to amend the state constitution to grant parents greater... Read More

LEWISVILLE, Texas — Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently revealed a proposal to amend the state constitution to grant parents greater control over their children's education and censure public educators for teaching material considered offensive. During a campaign event last week at a charter school in Lewisville,... Read More

January 27, 2022
by Dan McCue
Biden Celebrates Breyer, Affirms Vow to Name Black Woman to Supreme Court

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday affirmed his campaign pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the U.S.... Read More

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden on Thursday affirmed his campaign pledge to nominate the first Black woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying that while he does not yet know who his eventual nominee will be, such a choice was “long overdue." He also took time... Read More

January 27, 2022
by Dan McCue
House Chiefs of Staff Association Elects New Leadership

WASHINGTON – The bipartisan association that represents chiefs of staff and staff directors to members of the U.S. House of... Read More

WASHINGTON – The bipartisan association that represents chiefs of staff and staff directors to members of the U.S. House of Representatives has elected a new leadership team for the 117th Congress. For the first time, a pair of bipartisan co-chairs will lead the association, replacing an... Read More

News From The Well
Exit mobile version