‘Vaccine’ declared Merriam-Webster’s word of the year 2021

“The word vaccine was about much more than medicine in 2021,” Merriam-Webster says

WASHINGTON: The American dictionary of reference Merriam-Webster on Monday revealed “vaccine” to be its word of the year for 2021, reflecting both the hopes and deep divisions sparked by vaccination as the world wrestled with year two of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The word vaccine was about much more than medicine in 2021,” the dictionary — which based its decision on surging interest in the term’s definition — said in a post on its website.

“For many, the word symbolized a possible return to the lives we led before the pandemic. But it was also at the centre of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more.”

Merriam-Webster said the development of messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines required it to expand its definition of the word “vaccine,” because the technology triggers an immune response by telling human cells to create antigens, versus classic vaccines, which inject a neutralized form of a virus or antigens.

The word “vaccine” saw a 601% increase in definition lookups over the year, compared to 2020.

But “the prominence of the word vaccine in our lives… becomes even more starkly clear when we compare 2021 to 2019, a period in which lookups for the word increased 1048%,” Merriam-Webster said.

Vaccines are back in the spotlight once again after the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant, prompting renewed appeals for people in the developed world to get vaccinated or boosted against the virus — and for vaccines to be made more widely available across the developing world.

The World Health Organization has listed the Omicron strain as a “variant of concern,” and countries around the world are now restricting travel from southern Africa, where the new strain was first detected, and taking other new precautions.

In the United States, top government scientist Anthony Fauci on Monday urged everyone eligible to get a Covid-19 vaccine to help protect against severe disease.

“A variant like this, although there’s a lot we don’t know about it, one thing we do know is that vaccinated people do much, much better than unvaccinated people,” he said. “I would strongly suggest you get boosted now.”

With an expanded definition to reflect the times, Merriam-Webster dictionary has declared an omnipresent truth as its 2021 word of the year: vaccine.

“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.

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