2021 Words of the Year Explained

Each year, English dictionaries announce a “word of the year” — a word or phrase that represents the past year in some way. But did you know that some of these aren’t actually useful in everyday conversations?

Today, we’ll explain the words chosen by three major dictionaries this year and talk about whether they are common in daily life.

  1. Perseverance (n.) – Cambridge Dictionary
  2. Vax (n., v.) – Oxford Languages
  3. NFT (n.) – Collins Dictionary

1. Perseverance (n.)

Who Chose It and Why

Cambridge Dictionary chose “perseverance” as their Word of the Year. Perseverance means “continuing to do something even when things get difficult.”

According to Cambridge, this word was searched nearly 50,000 times in February, when NASA sent “Perseverance” – its biggest, most advanced rover – to Mars. Cambridge Dictionary also felt that this word describes how many of us continued to do our best despite all the challenges we faced this past year.

Do English Speakers Actually Use It?

Yes, people do use “perseverance.” It has been used for centuries and will probably be used long into the future too.

You’ll often see it used in the phrase “(something) takes/requires perseverance.”

  • Mastering English requires perseverance.
  • It takes perseverance to make your dreams come true.

“Perseverance” is also commonly used with the phrase “pay off.”

  • The scientist’s perseverance paid off when he discovered the cure to cancer.
  • Congratulations on graduating at the top of your class! Your hard work and perseverance really paid off!

English speakers also use the verb form as well: “persevere.”

  • Helen Keller persevered and did things many people thought were impossible.
  • Our country has persevered through many wars and natural disasters.

2. Vax (n., v.)

Who Chose It and Why

Oxford’s Word of the Year in 2021 is the slang expression “vax.” “Vax” is short for “vaccine,” “vaccination,” or “vaccinate.” As Engoo Daily News explains:

According to Oxford, the word “vax” was first used in the 1980s, but wasn’t used very often until recently. However, in September 2021 “vax” was being used 72 times more than it was in September 2020. Oxford said it’s very unusual for a topic to become an important part of everyday language in such a short time. 

Do English Speakers Actually Use It?

Yes, English speakers do use the word “vax” in everyday life. Currently, it’s most commonly used in the form “to get vaxxed.”

  • Have you gotten vaxxed yet? [= Have you been vaccinated yet?}
  • I got vaxxed last month.

You’ll also hear people say “unvaxxed” (“unvaccinated”) and “fully vaxxed” (“fully vaccinated”). For example, “Are you fully vaxxed?”

“Vax” is also used as a noun.

  • There’s a vax site at the train station. [= vaccination site]
  • Don’t lose your vax card! [= vaccine card]

Fun fact: Merriam-Webster chose “vaccine” as their word of the year!

3. NFT (n.)

Who Chose It and Why

“NFT” was chosen as Word of the Year by Collins Dictionary. NFTs are like certificates that prove that you own something in the digital world. As Engoo Daily News explains:

While other people might be able to copy and even download a photo or video, only the owner of the NFT will have the original — just like there is only one Mona Lisa, although other copies can be found around the world.

Collins chose NFT as their Word of the Year, because it’s “a buzzword we’ve heard over and over again in the past 12 months” and “the use of this technology to sell art” became famous worldwide when an artwork was sold for nearly $70 million!

Do English Speakers Actually Use It?

“NFT” is only used to refer to this technology. The first two letters stand for “non-fungible,” which means “unique and not easily replaceable.” This is a legal term, so most people wouldn’t be familiar with it.

Tokens for riding a train

On the other hand, the “T” in NFT stands for a common object which most native English speakers would recognize: tokens. A token is a small piece of metal or plastic that’s used like money. Here are some example sentences from the Engoo dictionary:

  • Put all of your game tokens into this bucket.
  • You need five tokens to park here.

Want to Improve Your English Vocabulary?

If you want to know how a word is used in real life, just ask one of our thousands of professional English tutors. At Engoo, we’ve helped hundreds of thousands of learners reach their English learning goals and we’re sure we can help you too. Learn more about us here.