Posted by: Jack Henry | December 28, 2021

Editor’s Corner: 2021 Word of the Year

Good morning! Today I have a less than traditional new year greeting for you: the word of the year! Of course, each dictionary has its own opinion on the topic, so I am delivering three different words to you. Let’s see what 2021 gave us!

The first word comes from Merriam-Webster, and I have to say, their selection is not my favorite. Merriam-Webster gives us…


In 2020, the Merriam-Webster dictionary selected "pandemic" as its word of the year.

This year, like some 59% of fully inoculated Americans, it went with "vaccine." [KC – Okay, you’ve had two years and you give us
pandemic and vaccine. M-W, you are not invited to my parties anymore.]

The publishing company noted that the word holds particular significance both as a medical term and a vehicle for ideological conflict.

"For many, the word symbolized a possible return to the lives we led before the pandemic," it said in Monday’s announcement. "But it was also at the center of debates about personal choice, political affiliation, professional regulations, school safety, healthcare inequality, and so much more."

Up next, we have something similar, but perhaps with a little more pizzazz than vaccine. From our friends across the pond, we have (courtesy of the New York Times), the pick from the Oxford English Dictionary:


“Vaccine,” already a common-enough word in English, more than doubled in frequency over the past year, as vaccines against the coronavirus rolled out. But the jaunty “vax”—a word that has skulked around the margins of the language since it first appeared in the 1980s—surged dramatically, occurring more than 72 times as frequently in September 2021 as a year earlier.

And finally, offers us something different:


The status or role of a person who advocates and actively works for the inclusion of a marginalized or politicized group in all areas of society, not as a member of that group but in solidarity with its struggle and point of view and under its leadership.

And while we must acknowledge that efforts at allyship are all too often insufficient and imperfect, the word nonetheless stands out for its role in the path out of the continued crises of 2020 for a better 2022.

Allyship in the dictionary, discourse, and data

The word allyship combines the noun ally, “a person who advocates for or supports a marginalized or politicized group but is not a member of the group,” and –ship, a noun-forming suffix here denoting “status, condition.”

This specific sense of the word ally is, notably, one we also updated this year. Developing out of the word’s general meaning of “supporter,” the application of ally in contexts of social justice is first evidenced as early as the 1940s in an article by Albert W. Hamilton on “allies on the front of racial justice” for Black people. The article, notably, features the term white allies, which has proliferated ever since. Another now-common term, straight allies—non-LGBTQ+ supporters of the LGBTQ+ community—dates back to at least the 1970s.

If you have followed our Business Innovation Groups (BIGs) at JHA, you have certainly learned more about allyship. To see additional information, to have a look at the BIGs, or to join any of the groups, check out BIG Conversations.

And for a more formal message to you all:

Kara Church

Pronouns: she/her

Technical Editor, Advisory

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