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'Vaccine' voted 2021 word of the year
Friday, December 31, 2021 @ 10:40 AM

Every year, the Fundación del Español Urgente (FundéuRAE) - Foundation for Urgent Spanish - with the support of the Real Academia Española, votes for its 'word of the year', and the winning word for 2021 is 'vaccine' (vacuna in Spanish) - one of the most commonly-used words across all media since the end of last year.

And the Foundation didn't just choose it for its ubiquitous presence in this year's social, political, scientific and economic discussions, but also for its linguistic interest.

The concept of a "vaccine" emerged in the XVIII century when a doctor in rural England - Edward Jenner - noticed that milkmaids infected with cowpox (a bovine virus) appeared to be immune to the smallpox virus transmitted from human to human. In the Spanish language, the word “vaccina” (derived from the Latín “vaccinus” - literally ‘from the cow') was used for some years, but eventually the word “vacuna”, which appeared for the first time in the RAE's official dictionary of the Spanish language in 1803, became the accepted translation of the English "vaccine", although its current definition was not included in the dictionary until 1914.

The word 'vacuna' and its derivatives like “vacunación” (vaccination) or “vacunado” (vaccinated), have been ever present in the news across the whole Spanish-speaking world this year, whether on their own or as part of compound nouns like “vacuna de refuerzo” (booster vaccine), “punto de vacunación masiva” (mass vaccination centre), “pauta de vacunación” (required vaccination dosage) …

It's a word that has also led to the appearance of neologisms, new concepts like “vacunódromo” - formed with the Greek-derived suffix “-dromo”, which describes a large structure, course or area used for a specific purpose - or “vacuguagua” - an acronym of “vacunación” (vaccination) and “guagua” (bus).

FundéuRAE has dedicated numerous posts and press releases to the word 'vacuna' in 2021, many of them aimed at clearing up the confusion between 'vaccine' and other terms like “serum”, “antidote” or “immunisation”.

Similarly, confusion has arisen when using the word 'vaccine' with certain verbs like “inoculate” which is a generic term for administering a vaccine, whereas “inject” refers to a very specific means of administering it.

Other words relating to the same topic were on the Foundation's radar this year, like, for example “trypanophobia” (an irrational, pathological fear of injections’) or “herd immunity” (relating to the theory that when a large portion of a community - the herd – becomes infected and then immune to a disease, it makes the spread of disease from person to person unlikely).

Just like in 2020, the whole range of vocabulary relating to coronavirus made up a large proportion of the candidatures for this year's ‘word of the year’.



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