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The Fax of the Vax

By Helee Shukla

The frequency of the word ‘vaccine’ and variations of the word, like vaccinated and vaccination, have nearly doubled since fall 2020. The origin of ‘vaccine’ can be traced back to the smallpox pandemic when scientist Edward Jenner used the Latin term, variolae vaccinae, as the basis for naming the disease. At the time, ‘vaccine’ referred to cowpox, a disease once hypothesized to provide immunity to smallpox.

Centuries after, terms such as ‘anti-vax’ were coined as colloquialisms and helped evolve the original definition of vaccine, which was vacca (cow), into one that meant ‘an immunizer.’ So, why choose ‘vax’ for 2021’s word of the year despite the several other alternatives? In comparison to ‘vaccine’ that doubled, ‘vax’ experienced a 72-fold increase since last fall, and had birthed a plethora of similar new terms. The final call to name it the word of the year was made by Oxford Languages.

Artwork by Saffah Azeem

The use of the word "vax" has increased significantly since 2020.

‘Vax’ is an informal abbreviation of ‘vaccination’, and takes on various meanings. It is most frequently used when discussing the different stances on the issue; ‘anti-vaccination’ or ‘pro-vaccination’ are often deemed too formal and many prefer to shorten any derivatives of ‘vaccine’ to ‘vax.’

Although its definition is agreed upon, whether it is the best choice for the word of the year is subjective. Many students believe that ‘vax’ not only appropriately represents what the past year has been like, but also emphasizes its necessity in daily life.

“...this year was summarized by a word that symbolized the action people sought to take to diminish the pandemic’s impact on the world...”

“Without vaccines, it would be difficult to call the past eleven months a ‘year.’ Although limited, vaccines have provided us freedom and security, and that is what we have to be most grateful towards. I believe that ‘vax’ is not only the most fitting but the most commemorative word of the year,” said junior David Ren.

“I think the word ‘vax’ describes this year perfectly. After 2020, a lot of people were fearful of getting the vaccine, especially since there was minimal long-term research behind it. The vaccine caused a lot of controversy between anti-vax and vax groups and overall caused a lot of negativity online. As the year progressed, people became less cautious of the pandemic and caused cases to rise again. When I think of the word ‘vax’, I think of the chaos that happened this year surrounding the pandemic and vaccines. It’s been two years since COVID happened, and I think it’ll take a lot more time for everyone to recover from it,” said senior Areesha Imran.

In comparison to last year’s word(s) of the year, this year’s word is certainly more definitive. For 2020, Oxford Languages concluded that one word was not enough to summarize the year and released a list of relevant subjects that covered everything from Black Lives Matter to Brexit. However, what seems to be the most striking difference between the two years is the connotation of the word(s). Words like superspreader, cancel culture, impeachment and bushfire included in the list were often associated with stress and negativity. On the other hand, ‘vax’ is more agreed to embody a step towards solving the COVID-19 tragedy while still maintaining the theme of spreading awareness that the word of the year follows.

“...‘vax’ is not only the most fitting but the most commemorative word of the year...”

“‘Vax’ has a controversial connotation because it’s been politicized even though it shouldn’t have been. Personally, I connect it with change and a solution to achieve a pandemic-free world, but that’s not what everyone thinks. Compared to last year, I feel like vax isn’t as negative or dramatic, but it’s still as political because America can never agree,” said senior Laurence Lai.

“Vaxxing is such a necessity; comparably with words used in the past, it fits well with the theme,” said eighth grader Dhruv Maheshwari.

Rather than summarizing the year with the very issues that occurred, this year was summarized by a word that symbolized the action people sought to take to diminish the pandemic’s impact on the world.


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