The Merriam-Webster Dictionary has selected the 2021 Word of the Year, and for the second year in a row, it’s influenced directly by the COVID-19 pandemic. This time around, the word is “vaccine,” and the dictionary has expanded the definition for the purpose of clarity — but already some folks are spinning conspiracies around the information.
In 2020, the pandemic and politics influenced the Word of the Year visibly — WWMT reported that Merriam-Webster selected “pandemic” as the word of the year, stating that sometimes, “a single word defines an era,” while Dictionary.com‘s People’s Choice Word of the Year was “unprecedented,” a word that defined the entire four years of the Trump presidency.
Now the pandemic has tipped the scale again, with the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, and the subsequent politicization of these life-saving preventatives, resulting in an increase of over 6 times the previous lookups of the word ‘vaccine’ this year, according to Merriam-Webster‘s latest count, and more than 1000% of the number of lookups compared to pre-COVID-19.
The word ‘vaccine’
– saw a 601% increase in lookups this year over last.
– had continual spikes of attention through the year.
– was about much more than medicine in 2021.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) November 29, 2021
In politically-influenced lookups, the reference reports that ‘insurrection’ also made the list of top lookups, spiking, unsurprisingly, in the days immediately following the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol Building.
There are already conspiracy theories spreading on social media suggesting that Merriam-Webster “changed” the definition of “vaccine” in order to include the new vaccines. An archived copy from 2017 of the page for “vaccine” demonstrates that the definition has indeed been expanded, merely clarifying a wider range of immunity-inducing preparations now available.
…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)
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Steph Bazzle reports on social issues and religion for Hill Reporter. She focuses on stories that speak to everyone's right to practice what they believe in and receive the support of their communities and government officials. You can reach her at Steph@HillReporter.com