'Vaccine' crowned as Merriam-Webster's 2021 word of the year

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Search trends played a factor in the selection of Merriam-Webster's 2021 Word of the Year: vaccine, the company said Nov. 29. 

Searches with the word "vaccine" increased 600 percent in 2020, Merriam-Webster's Editor at Large Peter Sokolowski said. 

"It was at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequity, and so much more," Mr. Sokolowski said. "The biggest science event of the year quickly became the biggest political debate in our country, and the word at the center of both stories is vaccine." 

Look-up volume on the dictionary's website drives Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year selection, the company said, adding the word vaccine generated a boom in searches when COVID-19 vaccines were developed and distributed. A spike in searches also accompanied news about mandates and recommendations at different points in the year. 

In May, Merriam-Webster updated the definition of vaccine to better explain how they work and to include the role of the mRNA technology behind Pfizer and Moderna's COVID-19 vaccines.

 

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