Word of the year: perseverance

Published 3:53 pm Friday, December 24, 2021

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

It’s difficult to sum up a whole year in just one word. But we sure do like to try every December!

As the year draws to a close, all the English dictionaries choose their “word of the year” to try to represent a brief summary of our collective experience over the past 12 months. They use different metrics and methods to figure out the best word. Oftentimes, it ends up being the most-searched word, since that typically indicates that it’s a word on a lot of people’s minds. The “word of the year” is usually a hot topic of discussion for a sustained period of time.

Last year, despite how everything was unlike anything we’ve ever experienced before, it seemed pretty easy to find a word to sum it all up. Two different dictionaries picked “pandemic,” referring to the COVID-19 outbreak that continues to affect people all across the world and right here at home.

Another dictionary chose “lockdown” to refer to the public health measures that were implemented at the beginning of the pandemic to help slow the spread of the virus.

Even the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) decided that they couldn’t choose just one word last year, instead picking several that related to the pandemic, including “social distancing,” “self-quarantine,” “Blursday,” and “mask-shaming.”

This year’s results were a little more split. Some were still pandemic-related while others returned back to other topics taking our attention in 2021.

OED declared “vax” as their word of the year, referring of course to a shortened form of the word “vaccine” or “vaccinated.” As their website notes, the word hadn’t been used very frequently until this year. By September, it was “over 72 times more frequent” than the same time in the prior year.

Vax is a pretty versatile word which can be used in a wide range of informal contexts. The OED’s examples are probably familiar terms we’ve heard and used a lot this year, such as “vax sites,” “vax cards,” “getting vaxxed,” and “fully vaxxed.”

Similarly, Merriam-Webster chose “vaccine” as their word of the year. Their website explains that words are useful tools for us to communicate all sorts of ideas, but sometimes words even “become vehicles for ideological conflict.”

No word other than “vaccine” garnered as much discussion and arguments during this past year.

“The biggest science story of our time quickly became the biggest debate in our country, and the word at the center of both stories is ‘vaccine’,” said Merriam-Webster’s website.

According to their statistics, lookups for the word increased 601 percent since last year, and that number jumps to 1,048 percent if you compare 2021 to lookups in 2019. No matter where we go, vaccines remain at the forefront of discussion. And as long as the pandemic sticks around, I don’t think we’re going to stop talking about vaccines any time soon.

But on a lighter note, I think it’s kind of an interesting fact that the word “vaccine” comes from the Latin word for cow (“vacca”) because doses of cowpox were originally used as inoculation to protect humans from smallpox. The word dates back to the 1880s.

For a change of pace, Collins Dictionary picked “NFT” as their word. They always seem to have a history of picking words that are unexpected compared to other dictionaries. (In the past, for example, they’ve chosen a lot of environmentally-related words.)

If you’re wondering what an “NFT” is, you’re not alone, because it’s a tech-based word that’s really only started to enter the mainstream in the last year.

NFT stands for “non-fungible token” which is apparently “a digital certificate of ownership of a unique asset, such as an artwork or a collectible.”

Honestly, the only reason I’ve heard of this word is that I’ve seen many people online angry about NFTs, which apparently make it really easy to steal other people’s artwork and make a profit off of it. I’m still not quite sure what NFTs are, but I’m not really interested in them at all. This is one word of the year I don’t care to hear more about in the future.

If I were judging all the different words of the year (I’m not really, though), I might would select Dictionary.com’s as the best of the bunch. And that’s simply because it’s not pandemic-related at all.

They chose “allyship” as the 2021 word of the year. It’s a new entry to the dictionary this year, meaning “the role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.”

Explaining their decision, dictionary.com stated, “allyship acts as powerful prism through which to view the defining events and experiences of 2021 – and crucially, how the public processed them.”

The word has been frequently used in the past 15 years, but searches for it surged over 700 percent recently.

I agree that it’s a pretty good word to define 2021, since it serves as a reminder that we must continue to support and advocate for each other, despite our differences. How else can we learn to live together peacefully in society if we do not try to reach out and help those who are suffering?

Personally, I also like to choose my own “word of the year” as well to describe how I managed to make it through the past twelve months. My word for 2021 is “perseverance.”

Last year, I picked “adapt” to describe how I had to adjust to living and working through a pandemic. But figuring out new ways to do things safely is only just the beginning. Despite hoping for a return to normal this year, the pandemic persisted. And so did the rest of us.

So I think “perseverance” is a good word to describe life in 2021. Things are kind of falling back into place, but it’s still nothing like life before all this began. It’s been exhausting at times, but I haven’t given up yet.

The sun still rises each morning no matter what’s happening in the world, and so do I. And I hope to carry that spirit of perseverance into next year too.

What would be your personal Word of the Year?

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer for Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at holly.taylor@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7206.