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'Vax' is 2021's Oxford Word of the Year

By Gaile Gregorio Published Nov 10, 2021 3:47 pm

And there you go, the lexicographers at the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) have chosen "Vax" as the 2021 Word of the Year.

Without hearing the term "vax" at least once in 2021, it would have been tough to get beyond the year. If 2020 was characterized by the global spread of COVID-19, 2021 is now all about the new weapon in the pandemic's arsenal: vaccines.

Vax was an obvious pick, according to OED senior editor Fiona McPherson, because it has had "the most striking impact."

"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,” she said.

According to Oxford Languages' "study on the language of vaccines," the word "vax" has featured over 72 times by September compared to the same period last year. Further, vax can be a noun or a verb, and it has inspired a slew of derivatives, including "vax sites," "vax cards," and "being thoroughly vaxxed."

Other vaccine-related phrases, such as 'vaccinate' and 'vaccination,' saw a 34-fold and 18-fold increase, respectively, according to the survey.

The term, as well as others linked to vaccination, had been expanded to include phrases such as "fully vaxxed" and "vax cards."

From the use of "vaccine distribution" in December 2020 to the use of "vaccine rollout" and "vaccine passport" by mid-March this year, Oxford Languages followed the growth and decline of vaccine vocabulary.

“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 center of our preoccupations this year,” stated Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Languages.

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

Utilizing 14.5-billion-word data set of web-based news articles, lexicographers at Oxford Languages have been documenting and monitoring "the language of covid-19" throughout the pandemic. The Oxford English Dictionary included concepts including "self-isolate," "social distance," and "infodemic" in April 2020.

Oxford noted last year that the epidemic and societal upheaval in the United States made it hard to choose just one word. Instead, lexicographers emphasized terms like "Black Lives Matter," "Blursday," "social distancing," and "systemic racism."

Previous words of the year by the Oxford Dictionary were:

  • 2019: Climate Emergency
  • 2018: Toxic
  • 2017: Youthquake
  • 2016: Post-truth
  • 2015: Emoticon of face with tears of Joy / ?
  • 2014: Vape
  • 2013: Selfie
  • 2012: Omnishambles
  • 2011: Squeezed middle