Oxford's Word of the Year Is an 'Attention-Grabbing' One

'No word better captures the atmosphere of the past year than vax'
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 1, 2021 10:05 AM CDT
For 2nd Year, OED's Word of the Year Links to Pandemic
Stock photo.   (Getty Images/Inside Creative House)

(Newser) – If you never want to hear anything about the pandemic ever again, there's one word you'll have to endure for at least another 15 minutes as it enjoys another moment in the sun. Oxford Languages has deemed "vax" its word of the year, with senior editor Fiona McPherson—the staffer responsible for getting "amazeballs" into the dictionary—telling the BBC that "vax" was this year's "standout."

"No word better captures the atmosphere of the past year than vax," Oxford's site notes, calling it a "particularly striking term." It adds that while "vax" was "a relatively rare word in our corpus until this year, by September it was over 72 times more frequent than at the same time last year." The word has also prompted a slew of widely used offshoots, including words and terms like "fully vaxxed," "vax cards," "anti-vaxxer," and "vaxxie" (a selfie taken during or right after one gets one's vaccination).

McPherson notes that "vax" also easily rolls off the tongue. "It's a short, punchy, attention-grabbing word," she tells the New York Times. She adds it's also "quite a productive one," thanks to its ability to morph into so many other derivatives. The Times notes that "vax" didn't really pop up in the vernacular until the '80s, though, oddly, a form of "anti-vax" was seen as early as 1812.

Last year's Oxford word of the year was similarly COVID-related, though it wasn't just one word: OED was left "speechless" by the scope of the pandemic, and so it chose a "new collective vocabulary" that had emerged around the coronavirus, among other terms. The Collins Dictionary, meanwhile, made as its 2020 pick "lockdown," a word that saw a 6,000% increase in usage in 2020 over 2019. (Read more Oxford Word of the Year stories.)

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