‘Vax’ named Oxford English Dictionary’s word of the year

It was said to have had ‘the most striking impact’ in 2021

Olivia Petter
Monday 01 November 2021 09:11

The Oxford English Dictionary (OED) has revealed its word of the year for 2021: vax, with usage up by 72 times compared to last year.

The dictionary noted a major surge in words and phrases related to vaccines over the past 12 months, including: “double-vaxxed”, “unvaxxed” and “anti-vaxxer”.

Another related term that has increased in popularity is “vaxxie”, which refers to a photograph of oneself taken at the time of receiving a vaccine, but specifically one against Covid-19.

Fiona McPherson, senior editor at OED, said that “vax” was a clear choice as word of the year for 2021 because it has made “the most striking impact”.

“It goes back at least to the 1980s, but according to our corpus it was rarely used until this year,” she added.

“When you add to that its versatility in forming other words - vaxxie, vax-a-thon, vaxinista - it became clear that vax was the standout in the crowd.”

Casper Grathwohl, the president of Oxford Languages, added: “When reviewing the language evidence, ‘vax’ stood out as an obvious choice. The word’s dramatic spike in usage caught our attention first.

“Then we ran the analysis and a story started to emerge, revealing how vax sat at the centre of our preoccupations this year.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Grathwohl noted how use of the word was increasing in unexpectated places too, such as on dating apps.

“The evidence was everywhere, from dating apps (vax 4 vax) and pent-up frustrations (hot vax summer) to academic calendars (vaxx to school) and bureaucratic operations (vax pass),” he said.

“In monopolising our discourse, it’s clear the language of vaccines is changing how we talk – and think – about public health, community and ourselves.”

The word “vax” was first recorded in English in 1799; its derivatives vaccinate and vaccination both first appear in 1800.

The OED’s word of the year is a word or expression that the dictionary deems has attracted a great deal of interest over the last 12 months.

“Every year, we debate candidates for word of the year and choose a winner that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance,” it states on its website.

In 2020, the OED made the unusual choice of choosing a selection of words as its word of the year, explaining that it has been impossible to name a single word to sum up those 12 months.

Among the words chosen were furlough, bushfires, WFH, lockdown, and moonshot.

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