U.S. News

Merriam-Webster picks 'vaccine' as Word of the Year

By Simon Druker   |   Nov. 29, 2021 at 1:20 PM
Merriam-Webster chose "vaccine" as its 2021 Word of the Year for two reasons: It symbolized a possible return to the lives we led before the COVID-19 pandemic and because it's at the center of a big debate in the United States. File Photo by Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE

Nov. 29 (UPI) -- After going with "pandemic" last year, Merriam-Webster announced on Monday that its 2021 Word of the Year is "vaccine."

The 190-year-old company said in a statement that lookups of the word were very high all year and jumped by 535 percent in August.

The oldest dictionary publisher in the United States said, "The word 'vaccine' was about much more than medicine in 2021. For many, the word symbolized a possible return to the lives we led before the pandemic."

It also acknowledged the term is now at the center of a big debate in the United States amid the COVID-19 pandemic, another reason the company picked it.

Merriam-Webster actually revised the word's definition in May, including three different descriptions to account for mRNA technology used in developing two of the current COVID-19 vaccines.

The word "vaccine" itself comes from the Latin word for cow or "vacca." The term dates back to the 1880s and was originally for inoculation using doses of cowpox to protect humans against smallpox.

In early November, Oxford Languages, which produces the Oxford English Dictionary, picked "vax" as its word of the year.

Meanwhile, a day before Thanksgiving, Collins Dictionary chose "NFT" as its word of the year, pointing to the "convergence of money and the Internet" in 2021 as its reason.