Merriam-Webster’s word of the year 2021 is vaccine

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Merriam-Webster has been determining a word of the year from 2003 but online polls to determine the word of the year were used by the American dictionary company from 2006. Last year, the word of the year was “pandemic” and unsurprisingly the word of the year 2021 is also related to the pandemic. The popular U.S. dictionary site chose “vaccine” as the word of the year for 2021. In a similar vein, Oxford English Dictionary announced “vax” as the word of the year but Collins Dictionary chose “NFT” (non fungible token) as the word of the year, 2021.

Merriam Webster uses lookup data and notable spikes to choose the word. It also checks whether the year-over-year searches for the word has increased. The site said that lookups for the word “vaccine” increased by 601 percent when compared with 2020 and 1,048 percent when compared with 2019.



Merriam-Webster also said that searches increased early this year after various vaccines and their efficacy rates dominated the news. Over the summer, reports of state and federal vaccine mandates once again resulted in a spike of lookups.

Peter Sokolowski, the editor-at-large at Merriam-Webster said that vaccine was a word that had sort of “two parallel by intersecting stories.” He noted that one story was a medical one while the other story also became a political as well as cultural flashpoint and this lead to increased search interest. Reports on coronavirus vaccines for children followed by reports on vaccine boosters also helped the surge in lookups.



Merriam-Webster also revised and expanded its entry for vaccines after new research into vaccines made it necessary to do so, in May.

Sokolowski also remarked on the etymology of the word “vaccine.” It is derived from the Latin word “vaccinus” which means “of or from a cow.” The French added the word vaccin to their lexicon and the British later changed the spelling to vaccine before adding it to their dictionaries. He said that the word vaccine would continue to be looked up many, many times by people in the years to come, as well.

Some of the runner-up words that came close to the top position included

insurrection
infrastructure
perseverance
woke
guardian
murraya.


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