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Merriam-Webster chooses VACCINE as the 2021 word of the year: A look at the runners-up

Since the first shot was administered in December 2020, the word 'vaccine' lookups on Merriam-Webster increased by a whopping 601%.

Merriam-Webster chooses VACCINE as the 2021 word of the year A look at the runners-up
United States, First Published Nov 29, 2021, 3:43 PM IST
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'Vaccine' is a word that has been synonymous with words like 'hope', 'solution' and 'relief' since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak in 2020. Ever since the countries were gripped with the wild spread of SARS-CoV-2, having a vaccine has been the global response since the word go. Now, the world over, companies are mass-producing vaccines, and people are getting vaccinated day in and out to ensure that the fight against the deadly virus continues globally.

Hence, it is no surprise that the word 'Vaccine' exploded as the most used word, and now it has been chosen by US publisher Merrian-Webster and the word of the year 2021. Since the first shot was administered in December 2020, the word 'vaccine' lookups on Merriam-Webster increased by a whopping 601%. Compared to 2019, when there was chatter about vaccines, Merriam-Webster logged an increase of 1,048% in lookups this year.


Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster's editor-in-charge, told The Associated Press that the word 'vaccine' was extremely high in their data every day in 2021. He added: The pandemic was the gun going off, and now we have the aftereffects.

Calling the word 'vaccine' a representation of two different stories, Sokolowski states that while one story presents the remarkable speed at which scientists developed a vaccine, the other highlights the debates surrounding the policy, usage, and hesitancy. 

Also read: WHO designates new B.1.1.529 COVID strain as ‘variant of concern’, renames it Omicron

The word 'vaccine', which was first reportedly used in 1882, was borrowed from the Latin word 'vaccina', meaning 'of or from a cow'.

Earlier this month, Oxford English Dictionary chose 'vax' as their word of the year. It is defined as 'a colloquialism, meaning either vaccine or vaccination as a noun and vaccinate as a verb.' Meanwhile, Collins Dictionary had earlier announced that the Collins Word of the Year 2020 was 'lockdown', defining it as the imposition of stringent restrictions on travel, social interaction and access to public spaces.

Among Merrian-Webster's runners-up in the word biography of 2021 are:

1. Insurrection: Searches for this word increased by 61,000% over 2020, especially after the deadly January 6, 2021, US Capitol siege.

2. Infrastructure: US President Joe Biden delivered what his predecessor Donald Trump often spoke about but never achieved - a bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law. Following this move, conversations moved from roads and bridges to 'figurative infrastructure'. Sokolowski said several people asked, what is infrastructure if it is not made out of steel or concrete?

3. Perseverance: Another word looked up on Merriam-Webster was the name of NASA's latest Mars rover - Perseverance, which landed on February 18, 2021. The name was thought up by 14-year-old Alexander Mather, who won a contest organized by NASA. The 7th-grade student at Lake Braddock Secondary School in Burke, Virginia, was among the 28,000 K-12 students to submit entries.

4. Nomad: Thanks to the 2020 release of the film 'Nomadland', which went on to win the Oscars in April 2021, was another word widely looked up on Merriam-Webster. The movie's director Chloe Zhao became the first woman of colour to win Oscars for Best Director. Frances McDormand bagged the Best Actress Oscar for the film.

5. Other words in Merriam-Webster's top 10 words of the year 2021 are: Cicada (we had an invasion), guardian (after Cleveland Indians became Cleveland Guardians), meta (Facebook parent company's new name in line with its vision to incorporate the metaverse phenomenon), 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).

Also watch: Covaxin shows only 50% efficacy against symptomatic COVID-19: Lancet Study

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