After a year marked by the nation’s immunization effort – from early scrambles to get appointments for shots against the coronavirus, campaigns meant to incentivize holdouts, and now a push for boosters – Merriam-Webster determined “vaccine” is the word of the year for 2021.
Searches for the word “vaccine” increased by 601 percent this year at Merriam-Webster.com, according to the dictionary company, which chooses its word of the year based on lookup data. The winning word seems fitting – a year ago, Merriam-Webster announced that “pandemic” was the word of the year for 2020.
Interest in the word “vaccine” has been up since the coronavirus pandemic began – according to Merriam-Webster, lookups for the word surged 1,048 percent from 2019 to 2021.
The growing interest in this year’s word is layered, said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large.
“The biggest science event of the year quickly became the biggest political debate in our country, and the word at the center of both stories is vaccine,” Sokolowski said in a statement. “Few words can express so much about one moment in time.”
The word, he said, was “at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequity.”
The lookup volume for the word was high when coronavirus vaccines were first developed and rolled out across the country – but also increased amid debates around vaccination mandates.
Searches were up at the start of the year as news emerged about the various vaccines and their levels of efficacy. As state and federal vaccine mandates became a cultural and political flash point over the summer, search interest “increased dramatically,” Merriam-Webster said. Interest in the word kept pace through the rest of the year, driven by President Joe Biden’s sweeping vaccine mandates for federal workers and businesses, then by the availability of the coronavirus vaccines for children, and as reports grew about vaccine boosters.
Earlier this year, the dictionary expanded its own definition of “vaccine,” updating it to include the role of messenger RNA technology in the development of shots. The pandemic has required a refresh of the lexicon in many ways – Merriam-Webster recently added “ghost kitchen” and “curbside delivery” to its dictionary.
The dictionary said its other top lookups for 2021 included “insurrection,” following the attack at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6.
Earlier this month, the British company that publishes the Oxford English Dictionary named “vax” as the 2021 word of the year.
Collins Dictionary, based in Scotland, earlier this month said “NFT,” the abbreviation for “non-fungible token,” was chosen as its word of the year.
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