‘Vax’ announced as Oxford English Dictionary's word of the year

Double-vaxxed, unvaxxed and anti-vaxxer have also spiked in use in the past 12 months

Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, says she received first COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine dose Friday: Kensington Palace, Official Post Photo via Twitter

Vax, an abbreviated version of vaccinated and vaccine, has been chosen as the word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) team.

The lexicographers' word choice reflects the global vaccine drive, as the use of the word has risen by 72 times in the past year. Words relating to vaccines – including double-vaxxed, unvaxxed and anti-vaxxer – have also spiked in use, owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.

"It goes back at least to the 1980s, but according to our corpus it was rarely used until this year," the OED's senior editor Fiona McPherson 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."

It can be spelt both vax and vaxx, but the form with one x is more commonly used.

The OED's definition for vax is both as a noun, "a vaccine or vaccination", and as a verb, "treat (someone) with a vaccine to produce immunity against a disease; vaccinate".

OED definitions of words related to vax:

  • vaxxie n. A photograph of oneself taken during or immediately before or after a vaccination, especially one against Covid-19, and typically shared on social media; a vaccination selfie
  • anti-vax adj. Opposed to vaccination
  • anti-vaxxer n. A person who is opposed to vaccination
  • double-vaxxed adj. Having received two doses of a vaccine

Publishers Oxford Languages and Collins each annually select a word of the year, but Collins is yet to announce its 2021 word. It chose lockdown in 2020.

Last year, the OED declined to select only one word, so it created a list of words and phrases that summed up the "unprecedented year", which included lockdown, bushfires, Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, WFH (work from home), keyworkers and furlough.

Previous OED words of the year:

  • 2004 – Chav
  • 2005 – Sudoku
  • 2006 – Bovvered
  • 2007 – No word announced
  • 2008 – Credit crunch
  • 2009 – Simples
  • 2010 – Big society
  • 2011 – Squeezed middle
  • 2012 – Omnishambles
  • 2013 – Selfie
  • 2014 – Vape
  • 2015 – 😂 – the face with tears of joy emoji
  • 2016 – Post-truth
  • 2017 – Youthquake
  • 2018 – Toxic
  • 2019 – Climate emergency
  • 2020 – No single word

The word choice is not always a single word – for instance, in the case of 2010's big society and 2019's climate emergency – and it does not have to have been coined in the last 12 months. The word or phrase is always a reflection of the year before, however.

A word of the year doesn't necessarily get added to the Oxford dictionary.

Updated: November 1st 2021, 6:15 AM