What is The Economist’s word of the year for 2021?

From The Economist:

If 2020 was the year of the covid-19 explosion, 2021 will go down as the one in which the world struggled to get back to normal. The words of the year—chosen by dictionary publishers, other linguistic outfits and sometimes this column—reflect the disconcerting mix of familiarity and strangeness.

Getting back to business meant, for some, returning to the dreariness of politics. Dictionary.com chose allyship as its word of the year, to describe the practice of people outside oppressed groups aiding and trying to understand those in them. Some have detected and decried woke-washing, the ruse of polishing a brand—usually a company’s—by talking allyship while doing the opposite. Woke-washing is a mutation of the older virtue-signalling. Signalling virtue is no bad thing, but the phrase has come to mean merely parading purity and doing little.

For others, “back to business” was more literal. The economy generated several contenders for the word of 2021. In the traditional economy, inflation was the talk of central bankers and commentators, and transitory became the buzzword associated with it—until America’s Federal Reserve abruptly stopped reassuring people that it would soon pass. People who had never thought much about supply chains began doing so as they were disrupted worldwide.

. . . .

But nontraditional finance produced more new words—or new uses for existing ones—than the boring old economy. DeFi, or decentralised finance, is the widest term for a group of phenomena including blockchainscryptocurrencies and non-fungible tokens or nfts, a kind of title deed over a digital asset such as an artwork. (Collins, a dictionary publisher, chose nft as its word of the year.) When the parent company of Facebook changed its name to Meta, the metaverse, a parallel digital reality in which users play and work—and can buy and sell in cryptocurrencies—shot up in online searches.

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Those who don’t get it are right-clickers: failing to grasp the worth of things like nfts, they think they can right-click and save a digital image on their computer with the same value. Crypto-adepts revel in obscurity. Take one website’s welcome: “ $wagmi embodies the heart and soul of diamond handed apes. No plebs, no jeets, and no rugs—just moon, ser.”

But the year’s most significant words were once again covid-related. A pingdemic, unleashed by Britain’s track-and-trace app notifying countless people that they had to self-isolate, showed the frustrating shortcomings of technological fixes. Variant made its way into everyday parlance, as the world started learning the Greek alphabet. Delta rampaged in the middle of the year, and the highly contagious Omicron was on everyone’s lips as it ended—albeit with some confusion about how to pronounce it. While some English-speaking classicists put the stress on the second syllable, most people converged on the first syllable favoured by the media (which is closer to how modern Greeks say their 15th letter).

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But the most important word of the past year came right at the start. It is not a new word, but unquestionably 2021’s most resonant. Derived from the Latin vacca for cow, and named after an early example used to treat cowpox, vaccines finally bent the curve of the covid pandemic.

With frequent use comes change: vaccine was shortened to vax. That can be used as a verb, especially in participle form (vaxxed), and has spawned variations including double-vaxxed and anti-vax, and portmanteaus like vaxophobia or vaxication (for people’s first trip after getting their jabs). 

Link to the rest at The Economist