American Dialect Society's Words of the Year

The society says its annual selection of the word of the year is the longest-running such vote anywhere, dating back to 1990.

'Fauci ouchie', the rhyming phrase for a Covid-19 vaccine dreamed up in honour of Dr Anthony Fauci, has been named the “most creative word or phrase of the year” by the American Dialect Society.


Founded in 1889, the society is made up of linguists, lexicographers, editors, and others who study language either professionally or as serious amateurs. But despite the organization’s professional orientation, the WOTY is open to the public and is undertaken in a spirit of fun.


Other organizations take a more data-driven approach to their WOTY selections. For instance, both Merriam-Webster and Oxford University Press base their selection on the word that received the greatest spike in lookups on their online dictionaries, after filtering out the “evergreen” words that are looked up year after year. Both of these dictionaries selected variations on vaccine as their WOTY, 'vaccine' for Merriam-Webster and 'vax' for Oxford.


More than 300 members took part in this year’s annual meeting of the American Dialect Society , at which 'Fauci ouchie' beat 'chin diaper' – defined as a “face mask worn below the chin instead of properly covering the nose and mouth” – to the accolade.


The society named 'insurrection' as the overall word of 2021, beating vax/vaxx. “At the time, words like coup, sedition and riot were used to describe the disturbing events at the Capitol, but insurrection – a term for a violent attempt to take control of the government – is the one that many felt best encapsulates the threat to democracy experienced that day,” said Ben Zimmer, chair of the society’s new words committee.


Meanwhile, on a less serious note, the “most useful” crown went to 'hard pants'. These are defined by the ADS as “pants that lack an elastic waistband or stretchy fabric, unlike the ‘soft pants’ favored by those working from home during the pandemic”.


The new word deemed “most likely to succeed” by the society was 'antiwork' – meaning a “position supporting the refusal to work, pushing back against labour exploitation”.


In 2000, the society chose its “word of the past millennium” as 'she', the feminine pronoun. “Before the year 1000, there was no she in English; just heo, which singular females had to share with plurals of all genders because it meant they as well,” it said at the time. “In the 12th century, however, 'she' appeared, and has been with us ever since.”

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