“Vaccine” has been declared the official “Word of the Year” by Merriam-Webster, the dictionary publisher. In the era of COVID-19, interest in the word increased by 600% as people scrambled to look up its meaning through the publisher’s online dictionary.
Vaccines loomed large over the nation throughout the year.
“The story is about much more than medicine. It was at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, health care inequity and so much more. The biggest science event of the year quickly became the biggest political debate in our country, and the word at the center of both stories is vaccine. Few words can express so much about one moment in time,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s Editor at Large, in a statement.
Internet traffic spiked during debates about mandates and medical recommendations, or whenever the number of people vaccinated hit a significant milestone.
“The lookups increased dramatically in August, with the introduction of state and federal vaccine mandates. Controversy surrounding President Biden’s September executive order requiring vaccination for federal employees, news about booster recommendations, and authorization of the vaccine for children continued to fuel enormous interest in the word,” the dictionary explained in its analysis.
Other 2021 “top lookups ” also were driven by significant events and cultural moments. They include “insurrection,” “infrastructure,” “perseverance” — after NASA’s “Perseverance” spacecraft landed on Mars — and “cisgender,” which had its own trajectory.
“It hit public radar in May when the word was used in a CIA recruitment video, and again in October when a student used it in a college op-ed,” the analysis said.
“Guardian “caught public attention in July after Cleveland’s baseball team announced that “Guardians” would replace “Indians” as the team name. Interest in “meta” spiked in October after Facebook announced it was changing the company name.
“Woke” drew interest during the off-year election in November’s election, “when those on the left were labeled with the word by those on the right,” the analysis noted.