Searches for the definition of the word increased by 601% this year compared to 2020, and by 1,048% compared to 2019.
“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,” Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s Editor at Large, said.
“But it was also at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more. Few words can express so much about one moment in time.”
Merriam-Webster updated its definition of the word in May 2021 after a new type of messenger RNA (mRNA) COVID-19 vaccine was developed and found to trigger an immune response “in an entirely new way.”
The former definition of “vaccine” was: “a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease.”
It has since been changed to:
“1 : a preparation that is administered (as by injection) to stimulate the body’s immune response against a specific infectious agent or disease: such as
a : an antigenic preparation of a typically inactivated or attenuated (see ATTENUATED sense 2) pathogenic agent (such as a bacterium or virus) or one of its components or products (such as a protein or toxin)
b : a preparation of genetic material (such as a strand of synthesized messenger RNA) that is used by the cells of the body to produce an antigenic substance (such as a fragment of virus spike protein).”
Runner-ups for Merriam-Webster’s 2021 “Word of the Year” include “insurrection,” “perseverance,” “woke,” “nomad,” “infrastructure,” “cicada,” “murraya,” “cisgender,” “guardian,” and “meta.”
Last month, Oxford Languages declared the word “vax,” a shorter word for “vaccine” or “vaccination,” as its 2021 word of the year.
“Whether you are vaxxed, double-vaxxed, or unvaxxed, the language relating to vaccines and vaccination permeated all of our lives in 2021,” an Oxford report read.
Art Daniella Sison