Word of the Year is here, check out what else made Merriam-Webster’s top 10

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FILE – Merriam-Webster.com is displayed on a computer screen on Friday, Dec. 6, 2019, in New York. Merriam-Webster has added 455 new words to its venerable dictionary, including a number of abbreviations and slang terms that have become ubiquitous on social media.(AP Photo/Jenny Kane, File)

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Merriam-Webster said its Word of the Year was not only the biggest science story of our time but also “the biggest debate in our country.”

“Vaccine” was dubbed 2021’s Word of the Year by the dictionary. Merriam-Webster said there was a 601 percent increase in searches for the word compared to 2020.

The company said the introduction of the mRNA vaccines prompted an update to its definition. The old entry read “a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease.

Merriam-Webster lists the following as the new entry:

vaccine noun

vac·​cine | \ vak-ˈsēn , ˈvak-ˌsēn \

plural: vaccines

Definition of vaccine

1 : a preparation that is administered (as by injection) to stimulate the body’s immune response against a specific infectious agent or disease: such as

a : an antigenic preparation of a typically inactivated or attenuated (see ATTENUATED sense 2) pathogenic agent (such as a bacterium or virus) or one of its components or products (such as a protein or toxin)

b : a preparation of genetic material (such as a strand of synthesized messenger RNA) that is used by the cells of the body to produce an antigenic substance (such as a fragment of virus spike protein)

The dictionary said that for many, the word “symbolized a possible return to the lives we led before the pandemic. But it was also at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more.”

2021’s top 10 words


After the violent attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6, Merriam-Webster said interest in the word increased. It said interest also rose for the words coup d’état and riot.

Definition: “an act or instance of revolting against civil authority or an established government.”


The dictionary said more perseverance got more attention after NASA’a Mars rover safely landed in February. The name was chosen by a seventh grader who entered it into NASA’s “Name the Rover” essay contest. I

Definition: “continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition; the action or condition or an instance of persevering; steadfastness.”


Lookups for this word increased by 4,303 percent after it use in election coverage, Merriam-Webster said. The library said “it’s increasingly used as a general pejorative for anyone who is or appears to be politically left-leaning.”

Definition: “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”


Three Oscar Awards wins for the movie Nomadland increased lookups for nomad by 4,625 percent, according to Merriam-Webster.

Definition: “a member of a group of people who move from place to place instead of living in one place all the time”


Debate over a federal spending plan in congress made this a big word for 2021. Merriam-Webster said lookups for infrastructure spiked 677 percent on April 7 after President Biden announced his $2.3 trillion plan.

Definition: the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country, region, or organization to function properly


The resurfacing of the insect after 17 years underground sparked interest into this word.

Definition: “any of a family (Cicadidae) of homopterous insects which have a stout body, wide blunt head, and large transparent wings”


Zaila Avant-garde won the Scripps National Spelling Bee with this word sparking interest. Avant-garde studied the word’s etymology ultimately helping her spell the word correctly.

Definition: “a genus of tropical Asiatic and Australian trees (family Rutaceae) having pinnate leaves and flowers with imbricated petals”


Merriam-Webster said the lookups for this word increased after a CIA member used the word to describe herself in a CIA recruitment video and after a student’s op-ed in a college newspaper used the word.

Definition: “of, relating to, or being a person whose gender identity corresponds with the sex the person had or was identified as having at birth”


Sports fans will recognize this word as Cleveland’s American League baseball team’s new name. After the team chose Guardians as its new name, Merriam-Webster said interest increased by 3,142 percent.

Definition: ““one that guards; custodian”


Interest in this word increased after Facebook announced it would change its company name to Meta.


  1. showing or suggesting an explicit awareness of itself or oneself as a member of its category : cleverly self-referential
  2. informal: concerning or providing information about members of its own category

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