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‘Vax’ is Oxford’s word of the year, as pandemic’s ‘Fauci ouchie’ and ‘inoculati’ enter the lexicon

A person holds a sign urging people to get vaccinated at an anti-vax rally on Oct. 25 in New York City. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

The British company that publishes the Oxford English Dictionary has named “vax” as 2021’s word of the year.

The formerly rarely used word, which dates to the 1980s, refers to the act of getting vaccinated or a vaccine. By September this year, though, its usage had skyrocketed, according to Oxford Languages.

“It is rare to observe a single topic impact language so dramatically, and in such a short period of time become a critical part of our everyday communication,” the company said in its recent report.

A host of “vaccination” variations have appeared during the pandemic, although “anti-vaxxers” — a term for those who are against getting vaccinated — existed as early as 1812, when British vaccine advocate and physician Edward Jenner complained: “The Anti-Vacks are assailing me . . . with all the force they can muster in the newspapers.”

The politicization of vaccination and the pandemic has spawned terms such as “vaxxident,” a traffic accident that results from the alleged side effects of getting vaccinated against the coronavirus. Or “anti-faxxer,” referring to people who refuse to believe in facts (for instance, that masks and social distancing help protect people from the spread of the coronavirus).

Other derivatives of vax include “vaxdar,” a term derived from radar, referring to some people’s supposed ability to intuit whether an individual has been vaccinated.

“Vaxinistas,” a term for people who flaunt their vaccination status to the annoyance of others on social media, might take “vaxxies” — selfies taken while getting vaccinated — before taking off for a “vaxcation” or “vaxication,” made possible, perhaps, by a brand new vax card.

U.S. infectious-diseases official Anthony S. Fauci, now the face of thousands of online memes, has also given birth to a synonym of vax: the “Fauci ouchie” — a phrase that refers to “a vaccination against Covid-19; any various Covid-19 vaccines,” according to Oxford Languages.

Those who have received a Fauci ouchie collectively join a mysterious group known as “the inoculati,” a term that sounds similar to “the illuminati,” although becoming a member of the inoculati simply means you have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, as opposed to gaining membership to a secret society.

Lexicographers at Oxford Languages have been tracking and recording “the language of covid-19” throughout the pandemic, using a 14.5-billion-word data set of web-based news content. In April 2020, the Oxford English Dictionary added such terms as “self-isolate,” “social distancing” and “infodemic.”

And as vaccine availability has spread across the globe, so have usages of phrases such as “vaccine mandate,” “vaccine rollout,” “vaccine booster” and “vaccine hesitancy” (not to mention regional variations, such as “jab” and “jag”).

And “vax,” of course.

“It is clear from our data and analysis that — as a standalone word and as an element in other words and phrases — vax has been fully absorbed into our language and our lives,” Oxford Languages said.

Coronavirus: What you need to know

Vaccines: The CDC recommends that everyone age 5 and older get an updated covid booster shot designed to target both the original virus and the omicron variant. Here’s some guidance on when you should get the omicron booster and how vaccine efficacy could be affected by your prior infections.

Variants: Instead of a single new Greek letter variant, a group of immune-evading omicron spinoffs are popping up all over the world. Any dominant variant will likely knock out monoclonal antibodies, targeted drugs that can be used as a treatment or to protect immunocompromised people.

Tripledemic: Hospitals are overwhelmed by a combination of respiratory illnesses, staffing shortages and nursing home closures. And experts believe the problem will deteriorate further in coming months. Here’s how to tell the difference between RSV, the flu and covid-19.

Guidance: CDC guidelines have been confusing — if you get covid, here’s how to tell when you’re no longer contagious. We’ve also created a guide to help you decide when to keep wearing face coverings.

Where do things stand? See the latest coronavirus numbers in the U.S. and across the world. In the U.S., pandemic trends have shifted and now White people are more likely to die from covid than Black people. Nearly nine out of 10 covid deaths are people over the age 65.

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