Over the past number of years Oxford University Press has announced an Oxford English Dictionary “Word of the Year.” The criterion for selection is that the word has become prominent or notable during the past year. A committee composed of a team of lexicographers, consultants to the dictionary, and members of the editorial, marketing, and publicity staff of the University Press, decide on the word. The 2021 Word of the Year is “vax.”
Vax was actually first used in England in 1799. It derives from the Latin vacca, meaning cow. Dr. Edward Jenner (1749-1823), the father of immunology, pioneered the smallpox vaccine, the world’s first ever vaccine. He built on the theories of Dr. John Fewster and others, who realized that someone who had contracted cowpox was immune to smallpox. Cowpox is a viral infection that is found in rodents and bovines. On cows the infection manifests itself with pustules on the udder. Humans can develop cowpox with similar pustules by touching the udders of infected cows when milking. Smallpox is a contagious and often deadly disease that has infected humans in waves of pandemics for thousands of years. Smallpox has flulike symptoms that develop into small blisters that break open and can cause death to people with impaired immune systems. Cowpox and smallpox are related viruses.
In 1796 Dr. Jenner inoculated his gardener’s 8 year old son, James Phipps, with a vaccine made with pus from blisters on Sarah Nelmes, a milkmaid who was infected with cowpox. The boy had some uneasiness and a fever after the shots but no cowpox developed. Dr. Jenner wrote: On the seventh day he complained of uneasiness in the (lymph nodes in the armpit) and on the ninth he became a little chilly, lost his appetite, and had a slight headache. During the whole of this day he was perceptibly indisposed, and spent the night with some degree of restlessness, but on the day following he was perfectly well. About six weeks later the boy was rubbed with smallpox pus on skin scraps which later produced no smallpox infection. In 1840 the British government began providing vaccination free of charge to anyone. As a result of a global immunization campaign, naturally occurring smallpox was wiped out by 1980.
The word “vax” was used in the 1980s but became popular in 2021 associated with the COVID19 pandemic. As a verb, vax means to treat with a vaccine to produce immunity against a disease. As a noun, it means a vaccine or vaccination. Vax has been used in forming other words such as double vaxxed, unvaxxed, and anti-vaxxer. If you take a picture of yourself during the vaccination process, you have a vaxxie. According to the Urban Dictionary, a person who gets a vaccine and then flaunts it with parties and trips is a vaxinista. Surrey, BC had a vax-a-thon for 32 hours at the Guilford Recreation Centre with 7,000 doses available.
So, vax has entered the common language in English speaking countries worldwide. Vax and vaxx are both accepted spellings but the form with one x is more common.
Also, did you know that the use of the word “pandemic” has increased by more than 57,000% this year?
It is interesting to note that something like what we are going through with COVID19 and vaccinations has occurred at various times since 1840. And the world is still going on today. So, take heart, this too shall pass in due time.
Addendum: Previous “Word of the Year” winners have included; selfie (2013), vape (2014), and climate emergency (2019). 2020 had so many contenders that Oxford University Press listed a handful of words; lockdown, bushfires, COVID19, Black Lives Matter, and WFH (working from home).
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the position of this publication.