'Vaccine' Is Merriam-Webster's 2021 Word of the Year, As Expected
From a medical breakthrough to a political and social issue, "vaccine" defined 2021 and was a clear choice for American dictionary Merriam-Webster's word of the year.
Searches for the word "vaccine" increased 601% from 2020, the year that the COVID-19 pandemic started according to the reference book's publisher. Compared to the pre-pandemic year 2019, lookups for "vaccine" were even higher at 1048%.
"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," Merriam-Webster 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," it added.
While interest in vaccines was high all year round, Merriam-Webster said lookups on the word jumped by 535% in August as media coverage showed discussions on issues surrounding the drug such as policies, approvals, access, and vaccination rates.
Merriam-Webster said scientific developments in the use of vaccines have prompted the dictionary to expand and revise its entry for the word in May this year.
Previously, the dictionary defines "vaccine" as "a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that are administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease."
The revised entry for "vaccine" that one can now find in Merriam-Webster is:
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)
A little history, Merriam-Webster said "vaccine" comes from the Latin word for “cow,” vacca, because the term was initially used to refer to inoculation using doses of cowpox that was discovered to protect humans against smallpox.
"This word is a relatively recent one in English, dating back to the 1880s," Merriam-Webster said.
The choice of the word still reflects humanity's continuing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic as the world prepares to enter the third year of the global crisis. In 2020, Merriam-Webster chose "pandemic" as its word of the year.