Merriam-Webster Declares ‘Vaccine’ Word of Year 2021

Merriam-Webster said Monday it had chosen “vaccine” as the word of the year, one that went beyond its medical meaning to encapsulate debates about personal choice, political affiliation and much more.

This year’s main word, according to the American dictionary company, follows the selection of “pandemic” as the world of 2020.

“The promising medical solution to the pandemic that upended our lives in 2020 also became a political argument and source of division. The biggest science story of our time quickly became the biggest debate in our country, and the word at the centre of both stories is vaccine,” it said.

“Vaccine” was looked up 601% more often than in 2020. But interest in it has been growing since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. Lookups jumped 535% in August as the United States was debating vaccine approvals and vaccination rates and have remained stable throughout the late fall.

Merriam-Webster also updated the word’s definition to give it a more nuanced description that now reflects the use of messenger RNA in vaccine production.

The Oxford English Dictionary said in October that it picked “vax” as the word of the year. The word vaccine and its derivatives stem from the Latin word for cow, “Vacca”, because cowpox was used to immunise people against smallpox.

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