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Merriam-Webster:What was the 2021 "Word of the Year"?

… Hint: its definition changed in 2020

The words that people were exploring on the Merriam-Webster are deciphered through technological innovation. The old M-W dictionaries are just not used much today, but the online version is being utilized like never before in previous years.

So, after further review, what was the 2021 word of the year?

Vaccine Here is what the dictionary website said about Vaccine.

In everyday use, words are useful tools that communicate assertions, ideas, aspirations, and uncertainties. But they can also become vehicles for ideological conflict.

This is what happened to vaccine in 2021. The promising medical solution to the pandemic that upended our lives in 2020 also became a political argument and source of division. The biggest science story of our time quickly became the biggest debate in our country, and the word at the center of both stories is vaccine.

Hopes for cures and treatments of COVID-19 began as soon as the disease began to spread. Research into a new kind of vaccine containing messenger RNA, or mRNA, genetic material rather than an inactivated form of the virus was accelerated. After decades of studies conducted for application to diseases such as influenza, Ebola, and rabies, this new type of mRNA vaccine against the SARS-CoV-2 virus was rapidly developed, tested, and manufactured for broad use, with the first doses being administered in the U.S. in December 2020.


The change of the definition

Because the new vaccines for Covid-19 were developed in a different manner, M-W had to change its definition of “Vaccine,”

The use of a vaccine that triggers an immune response in an entirely new way required that Merriam-Webster revise and expand its entry for the word, which the company did in May. The definition, which formerly read “a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease,” was replaced with the following:

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)

Interest in the definition of this word was intense in the past year: lookups for vaccine increased 601% year-over-year from 2020. But interest in the word has been high since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with much discussion of the funding, development, testing, and ultimate distribution of the vaccines occurring in 2020. The prominence of the word vaccine in our lives in this era becomes even more starkly clear when we compare 2021 to 2019, a period in which lookups for the word increased 1048%.


The derivation of the word

Vaccine has a unique background, and its previously uncontroversial background became much more different in 2020-21,

Vaccine comes from the Latin word for “cow,” vacca, because the term was initially used to refer to inoculation using doses of cowpox that, it was discovered, protect humans against smallpox. This word is a relatively recent one in English, dating back to the 1880s. See more on how vaccines work.

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. But it was also at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more.

Few words can express so much about one moment in time. The other words of 2021

1/10: Insurrection 2/10: Perseverance 3/10: Woke 4/10: Nomad 5/10: Infrastructure 6/10: Cicada 7/10: Murraya 8/10: Cisgender 9/10: Guardian 10/10: Meta

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