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'Vax cards,' 'vax sites,' 'fully vaxxed': 'Vax' is Oxford's 2021 word of the year

An in-home care worker receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in February in Los Angeles, Calif.
Mario Tama
Getty Images
An in-home care worker receives her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in February in Los Angeles, Calif.

It would have been pretty difficult to get through 2021 without hearing the word "vax" at least once.

If last year was marked by the emergence of COVID-19 on a global scale, this one has been all about the new solution to end the pandemic: the vaccines.

That's why Oxford Languages, the creator of the Oxford English Dictionary, chose "vax" as its 2021 Word of the Year.

"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," Oxford said.

Vax can be either a noun or a verb, and it's spawned a litany of derivatives, including "vax sites," "vax cards" and "being fully vaxxed," according to Oxford.

The feeling toward the word "vax" certainly isn't universal. Many see the promise of protection against COVID-19 provided by the vaccine as a welcome scientific advancement. Others view the new drug with skepticism, and some refuse to get it.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 192.5 million people in the U.S. are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, amounting to roughly 58% of the country's population.

Despite overwhelming evidence that the COVID-19 vaccines are both safe and effective, there has also been a wave of misinformation about the shots.

Last year, Oxford said the pandemic and social unrest across the U.S. made it impossible for them to select just one word. Instead lexicographers highlighted a variety of terms including 'Black Lives Matter,' 'Blursday,' 'social distancing' and 'systemic racism.'

Prior Words of the Year included climate emergency (2019), toxic (2018), youthquake (2017) and post-truth (2016).

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joe Hernandez

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