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Friday, December 2, 2022

The Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2021 is a shot in the arm

Please accept my apologies for the jab, shot, and “Fauci ouchie.” The Oxford Languages Dictionary’s Word of the Year for 2021 is “vax.”

That could seem to be a no-brainer. However, as is true with so many aspects of public health, the strength is in the numbers.

As vaccinations against the coronavirus were available, the term “vaccine,” which was already a popular enough word in English, had its prevalence more than quadruple in the last year. Nonetheless, the jovial “vax,” which has been skulking about the edges of the English language since its initial appearance in the 1980s, had an extraordinary spike, appearing more than 72 times as often in September 2021 as it did a year earlier.

Fiona McPherson, a senior editor for new words at Oxford Languages, the publisher of the Oxford English Dictionary, claimed that although “all these other vaccination terms rose, nothing like vax” had gained in popularity.

It’s also pretty fruitful in my professional capacity as a lexicographer,” she said. The term is utilised in all kinds of different ways to create new words, according to the author.

The Oxford Dictionary’s Word of the Year is chosen based on data collected from news sources all across the English-speaking world and pulled from the dictionary’s constantly updated corpus of more than 14.5 billion words. While the pick is intended to “reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations” of the prior year, it also has the possibility of becoming “anenduring phrase of lasting cultural importance.”

It has always been a scientific but sometimes amusing endeavour, stressing both cultural change and the often ridiculous manner in which English reflects it in its many forms.

This year, however, it was necessary to revert to the practise of crowning a single word. “The term vax has injected itself into the lifeblood of the English language in 2021 more than any other,” Oxford University declared in a pun-filled press statement.

Following the research with inoculation against smallpox conducted by the British scientist Edward Jenner in 1799, the term “vaccine” was first used in the English language. When he first began reporting on his studies, the term “vaccine” (derived from the Latin vacca, meaning cow) was used to refer to both cowpox itself and the substance generated from the pustules of cowpox that he injected into his human victims.

According to the University of Oxford’s report on its study, it was only decades later that the term “vaccine” started to be used to refer to the process of inoculating against various illnesses. While the word “vax” did not arise until the 1980s, the phrase “anti-vax” — which was originally written “anti-vacks” — did occur far earlier in the history of the term.

The paper includes neologisms such as “vaxxie,” “vaxinista,” “vax(i)cation,” and “inoculati,” among others. Some words may slip into obscurity and never make it into a dictionary. McPherson believes that certain strategies, such as the “strollout,” which gained popularity in Australia in May as a result of anger with the sluggish pace of vaccination campaigns, might be effective in a larger range of circumstances in the future.

This is the first time that a study from Oxford has examined the vocabulary of vaccination in nine additional languages. Many languages, like French and Russian, simply translate the English term “vaccine” into their own language. The term for vaccination in Spanish is “vacuna,” which is the feminine version of the adjective vacuno, which means “bovine.” In contrast to the English language, where users often use the words “shot” or “jab” in colloquial settings, “vacuna” is used “across all registers,” according to the University of Oxford analysis.

Language of vaccinations demonstrates the need of English as a universal language. Even within the English language, however, there are pockets and sub-pockets of regional variance that survive. McPherson, a Scot, was overjoyed at the prospect of “getting a jag,” to to the surprise of her English father-in-law.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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