'Vaccine' word of the year for 2021: Merriam-Webster

The dictionary company bases its selection on lookup data, factoring in spikes and year-over-year increases.

Denette Wilford 2 minute read November 29, 2021

World problem or word problem? How about both?

Words like “coronavirus,” “jabbed” and “quarantine” have become normal in our vernacular, so it’s little surprise that Merriam-Webster has declared ‘vaccine’ as word of the year for 2021.

“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.

“It really represents two different stories,” Sokolowski explained. “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.”

The selection follows “vax” as word of the year from the Oxford English Dictionary. And it comes after Merriam-Webster chose “pandemic” as 2020’s word due to searches on its online site.

“The pandemic was the gun going off and now we have the aftereffects,” Sokolowski said.

Searches for the word “vaccine” skyrocketed by nearly 1,050% this year compared to 2019, when the only shots people were typically receiving were flu shots or school-required ones.

Other dictionary companies choose words of the year by committee, but Merriam-Webster bases its selection on lookup data, factoring in spikes and year-over-year increases.

The company has been declaring a word of the year since 2008.

The runners-up of 2021 include “insurrection,” “infrastructure,” “nomad,” “cicada,” “guardian,” “meta,” “cisgender,” “woke,” “murraya,” and “perseverance.”


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