Merriam-Webster: Vaccine Word of Year 11/29 06:05
With an expanded definition to reflect the times, Merriam-Webster has
declared an omnipresent truth as its 2021 word of the year: vaccine.
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:
"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,"
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 (Chlo 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).