Oxford chooses ‘vax’ as 2021 word of the year


Nov. 1 (UPI) — Oxford Languages, which produces the Oxford English Dictionary, announced Monday it has selected “vax” as the 2021 word of the year.

“When our lexicographers began digging into our English language corpus data it quickly became apparent that vax was a particularly striking term,” Oxford said in its announcement. “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 organization noted the term has generated derivatives in many new contexts — vax sites, vax cards, getting vaxxed and being fully vaxxed. “No word better captures the atmosphere of the past year than vax.”

The word “vaccine” was first recorded in English in 1799. Its derivatives — vaccinate and vaccination — first appear in 1800, Oxford said in a related report.

“All of these words come ultimately from Latin vacca cow, in a rather complicated story that centers on the English physician and scientist Edward Jenner’s pioneering work on vaccination against smallpox in the late 1790s and early 1800s,” the Oxford report said.

Fiona McPherson, a senior editor at Oxford Languages, said vax was an obvious choice as it has made “the most striking impact.”


“It goes back at least to the 1980s, but according to our corpus it was rarely used until this year,” she said. “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. Vax and vaxx are both accepted spellings but the form with one x is more common.”

There was no single word chosen by Oxford in 2020 as the company said there were too many to choose from.

In 2019, Oxford chose “climate emergency,” which just happens to be the subject of a major meeting of world leaders in Scotland on Monday.

Merriam Webster, another notable dictionary, last week announced that it had added the phrase “vaccine passport” to refer to a physical or digital document providing proof of vaccination against COVID-19 or other infectious diseases.