Back in July I wrote for the second time about some of the new words that had recently entered our vocabulary because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. I began the piece hoping that we would be finally enjoying a “summer of freedom” from the virulent virus.

Obviously I was wrong; COVID is still with us and, as is its habit, it’s added even more new words to our vocabulary. This time I’ll take a look at some of those words along with a few non-COVID words that have recently been in the news.

Let’s start out by considering the “words of the year” as anointed by several of the major dictionary publishers. First up is Merriam-Webster, which chose “vaccine” as its word of the year based on the not-surprising 600 percent increase in look-ups of the word.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, the people at the Oxford Dictionary selected “vax,” and not the more British-sounding “jab” as its word of the year.

The editors of the Cambridge Dictionary made “perseverance,” (“the continued effort to do or achieve something, even when this is difficult or takes a long time”) its selection, based on nearly 250,000 lookups. Interest in the word peaked at more than 30,000 views between February 18–24 as the Perseverance Rover was making its final descent toward Mars.

Dictionary.com selected “allyship” (the role of a person who advocates for inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group) as its word of the year. According to the editors, “allyship” has been around since the mid-1800s but had been added to the dictionary only last month, making this the first time they have chosen a word that’s new to their dictionary as their word of the year.

The editors of Collins Dictionary went in a different direction and selected “NFT” as their word of the year. NFT is the abbreviation of “non-fungible token,” which is the unique digital identifier that records ownership of a digital asset. It beat out “crypto” and “cheugy” for the honor.

Although it’s not a word of the year, “Meta” became newsworthy because it’s the new name of Facebook. “Meta” is taken from “metaverse,” which was coined by Neal Stephenson for his 1992 novel “Snow Crash.” The definitions of “meta” are: the function key that is activated by simultaneously holding down a control key, or a creative work referring to itself.

And this just in: The Pew Research Center reports that 29 percent of U.S. adults “are religious ‘nones,’ – people who describe themselves as atheists, agnostics or ‘nothing in particular’ when asked about their religious identity.” I wonder how all the nuns feel about all the “nones.” (That was a long way to go for a bad pun. Sorry.)

On the pandemic front, once enough people got vaccinated and even “boosted,” we now have “breakthrough” infections of COVID. Fortunately, the symptoms suffered by fully vaccinated people are usually much milder than those that afflict the unvaccinated.

And, in case you were wondering, you’ve been “boosted” (not “boostered”) if you’ve gotten all three jabs – at least according to the experts on the Today show.

First we had the delta variant and now it’s omicron. Who’d have thought that we’d ever need to be afraid of the Greek alphabet? But enough about that, who wants some holiday pi? (I’m guessing nobody.)

Jim Witherell of Lewiston is a writer and lover of words whose work includes “L.L. Bean: The Man and His Company” and “Ed Muskie: Made in Maine.” He can be reached at [email protected]


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