2021 Words of the Year

The various dictionaries have announced their words of 2021 and to no one’s surprise, they are both related to the pandemic.

The Oxford English Dictionary’s Word of the Year is based on usage evidence drawn from Oxford’s continually updated corpus of more than 14.5 billion words, gathered from news sources across the English-speaking world. The selection is meant to reflect the ethos, mood or preoccupations of the preceding year, while also having the potential as a term of lasting cultural significance. It has traditionally been a scholarly yet often a light-hearted effort, highlighting both cultural change and English’s sometimes goofy way of reflecting it. But last year, the company forwent a single choice and instead highlighted the pandemic’s sudden and pervasive influence on the language more broadly.

The Oxford Language’s 2021 Word of the Year is “Vax”. After analysing 14.5 billion words used in daily news coverage in 2021, they found the word Vax was used 72 times as much as it was in 2020. A relatively rare word until this year, by September it was over 72 times more frequent than at the same time last year and has generated numerous derivatives that we are now seeing in a wide range of informal contexts, from vax sites and vax cards to getting vaxxed and being fully vaxxed, no word better captures the atmosphere of the past year than vax. The word Vax highlights the medical breakthroughs and the rise of COVID vaccines across the world.

The word vaccine was first recorded in English in 1799, following the British scientist Edward Jenner’s experiments with inoculation against smallpox. In early reports on his experiments, the word vaccine, derived from the Latin Vacca, or cow, was used to refer to the disease and the material from the cowpox pustules he injected into his human research subjects. It was only decades later, according to Oxford’s report on its research, that vaccine came to be used for inoculation against other diseases. Curiously, while the shortened form vax did not appear until the 1980s, the term anti-vax — spelt anti-vacks — appeared early.

Runners-up on this year’s list were “vaccinate,” which increased in use 34-fold this year, and “vaccination,” up 18-fold.

The Cambridge Dictionary has announced “Perseverance” as its Word of the Year 2021. It’s a word that perfectly captures the undaunted will of people across the world to never give up, despite the many challenges of 2021. Perseverance is defined as the continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time and the word has been looked up globally more than 243,000 times during 2021.

Prior to 2021, perseverance didn’t appear noticeably in lookups on the Cambridge Dictionary website. However, a spike of 30,487 searches for perseverance occurred between 19–25 February 2021, after NASA’s Perseverance Rover made its final descent to Mars on 18th February.

The Collins Dictionary has on the other hand chosen the cutting edge “NFT” or “Non-Fungible Token” as their word of the year. NFT is defined as a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or a collectible. Other finalists for the word of the year were pandemic-related words like “double vaxxed” and “hybrid working” as well as “Crypto,” short for cryptocurrency like Bitcoin, and “cheugy,” meaning clunky or outdated.

The 2020 Words of the Year are…

2020 is finally over. Happy New Year! Welcome 2021 and hope this year we finally see an end to all the suffering worldwide!

2020 has been a year like no other we have seen in our lifetime for which there is no precedent in living memory. And every year, most dictionaries put out what they feel is the most important word for the year, something that encapsulates what the year has been. The German tradition, Wort des Jahres was started in 1971. The American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year is the oldest English-language version, and the only one that is announced after the end of the calendar year, determined by a vote of independent linguists, and not tied to commercial interest. However, various other organisations also announce Words of the Year for a variety of purposes.

A Word of the Year is a word or expression that has attracted a great deal of interest over the last 12 months with shortlisted words hotly debated by llexicographers, editors and even the public involved in choosing the word that is judged to reflect the ethos, mood, or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance. So the word of the year is one which sums up the state of the world succiently and defines it.

For the first time, the Oxford Dictionary did not come up with a word for 2020 because according to them, it quickly became apparent that 2020 was not a year that could neatly be accommodated in one single “word of the year”, so they decided to report more expansively on the phenomenal breadth of language change and development over the year in their Words of an Unprecedented Year report. This report examines, in detail, the themes that were a focus for language monitoring in 2020, including Covid-19 and all its related vocabulary, political and economic volatility, social activism, the environment, and the rapid uptake of new technologies and behaviours to support remote working and living.  One of the year’s most remarkable linguistic developments, according to them, has been the extent to which scientific terms have entered general discourse, as we have all become armchair epidemiologists, with most of us now familiar with term like R number, flatten the curve and community transmission. You can download the report from here.

The Cambridge Dictionary has chosen Quarantine as their Word for 2020. According to their data, it was one of the most highly searched words on the Cambridge Dictionary this year. Quarantine was the only word to rank in the top five for both search spikes and overall views, more than 183,000 by early November, with the largest spike in searches at 28,545 searches seen the week of 18-24 March, when many countries around the world went into lockdown as a result of COVID-19. Noticing this spike in searches, the Cambridge Dictionary editors started to research how people were using the word quarantine, and found a new meaning emerging: a general period of time in which people are not allowed to leave their homes or travel freely, so that they do not catch or spread a disease. Research showed the word was being used synonymously with lockdown, particularly in the United States, to refer to a situation in which people stay home to avoid catching the disease. This new sense of quarantine has now been added to the Cambridge Dictionary, and marks a shift from the existing meanings, which relate to containing a person or animal suspected of being contagious. The two runner-up words to the word of the year was predictable – lockdown and pandemic. To know more, here is a short video.

Over at the Mariam Webster Dictionary, Pandemic was the word of the year chosen by them. According to Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster, this year the word pandemic is not just technical anymore, but has become a word in general usage and is probably the word which will be used to define this period and searches for the word pandemic on March 11 2020 were 115,806% higher than look-ups experienced on the same date in 2019. The word Pandemic, with roots in Latin and Greek, is a combination of the word pan, which means for all, and demos, for people or population. The latter is the same root of democracy and the word pandemic dates to the mid-1600s, used broadly for universal and more specifically to disease in a medical text in the 1660s, after the plagues of the Middle Ages. According to Sokolowski, the the traffic for pandemic was attributed not entirely to searchers who didn’t know what it meant but also to those on the hunt for more detail, or for inspiration or comfort.

The online dictionary, Dictionary.com also had Pandemic as its word of the year for 2020. An overwhelming choice, the word kept running through the profound and manifold ways our lives have been upended — and our language so rapidly transformed—in this unprecedented year. On March 11 when the WHO declared the COVID-19 as a pandemic, when only 4,291 lives were lost around the world, searches for pandemic skyrocketed 13,575% on Dictionary.com compared to 2019. The search volume for pandemic sustained the highest levels on the site over the course of 2020, averaging a 1000% increase, month over month, relative to previous years. Because of its ubiquity as the defining context of 2020, it remained in the top 10% of all lookups for much of the year since.

2020 has changed our vocabulary in ways that cannot be fathomed. Words that were previously scientific in nature have now become commonplace and are used in daily usage. Languages are constantly evolving but I don’t think there has been so many changes in such a short period. 2020 will be a year most of us will never forget, for many reasons and the pandemic that COVID-19 brought will be the foremost reason. This is a year, every one, including children will recount to their children and grandchildren and I pray that the future generations learn from our mistakes and don’t repeat them.

Poem: Holidays

It’s the year end and most people are either going away on holidays soon or are seriously thinking about it. Schools are done in Singapore and everyday I hear someone going away on holiday. We are too, very soon. So here’s a poem which celebrates holidays!


The tickets are booked, the airline seats selected
There’s an air of anticipation, excitement in the blood

A sense of wanderlust takes over
Excitement building up, getting bigger and bigger

You want the days to fly, the holiday to start
Your heart is pumping, you can’t wait to get a headstart

The long awaited day finally is here
You wake up bright and early, with a lot of cheer

You get to the airport and check in
Your boarding pass is in your hand and your face has huge grin

You board the plane and can’t wait for it to take off
The clouds call your name, you just want to blast-off

And then it’s time to land, for you to set foot in your holiday land
Your holiday now begins, the holiday you had planned

Enjoy your holiday, you have earned it to the max
Whatever your choice, it’s your time to kick off and relax

Poem: The Power of Words

I was mulling over the power that words have and wanted to write a blog post about it. But when I started writing the post, I realised I was able to express myself better through a poem than through prose. See the power that words was wielding over me?

The Power of Words

Words can make you laugh, words can make you cry
Sometimes leaving your soul crushed and dry

Words can hurt, words can calm
Words have the power to be that that soothes, be the balm

Words can cause envy, words can cause strife
Words can also sometimes follow you in the afterlife

But words can be used hide and conceal
Words can make you want to do things with zeal

Words can be the cause of revolutions
Words can be the reason that makes people storm bastions

Words have such power you can see
Handle words with care, this is but a humble plea

Words are like bullets fired off a weapon,
Once spoken, can’t be recalled, it has to find its traction

That’s why it’s said to be careful with how and what you speak
Because once spoken, words can never be recalled or erased
Because once wrongly spoken, its future is very bleak
Words spoken in haste, can’t be reversed or retraced

So be aware the power and influence that words have over lives
After all, words have the power to change perspectives

Writers Block

For this post, I sat down for almost two days thinking of something to write, but words would not just come out! I was so frustrated and close to giving up when this poem came out about my current situation

Writers Block


My mind is a blank

Words stop from forming at a snap

I have a severe case of writer’s block!

My mind stuck between a hard place and a rock.

Ideas keep flitting about,

But none seem to root and sprout.

I keep reading hoping for a spark of inspiration

But nothing comes to mind, resulting in loads of mental perspiration

My mind is a blank, as a sheet of paper

Words stuck inside, waiting to come out…