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Words of The Year 2021

Last month the Oxford English Dictionary named vax as its word of the year, noting that in September usage of the word was up more than 72 times on the previous year. Now the Collins Dictionary has released its top words for 2021.

Whilst this year's Oxford-winning word, vax, was first recorded in English in 1799 (and its derivatives vaccinate and vaccination both first appeared in 1800), the Collins word of the year is a decidedly modern creation.

In a year that has seen the musician Grimes sell a collection of digital artworks for almost $6m (£4.4m), Collins Dictionary has made NFT its word of the year. The abbreviation of non-fungible token has seen a “meteoric” rise in usage over the last year, said Collins, up 11,000 percent in the last year.

Collins defines NFT as “a unique digital certificate, registered in a blockchain, that is used to record ownership of an asset such as an artwork or a collectible”; its lexicographers, who monitor the 4.5bn-word Collins Corpus to choose their word of the year, said they went for NFT because it demonstrates a “unique technicolour collision of art, technology and commerce” that has “broken through the Covid noise” to become ubiquitous.

The most valuable NFT to date is a collage by digital artist Beeple, which sold for £50.3m ($69.3m) at Christie’s in March. The artwork was listed by Christie's for only $100, becoming the first purely digital artwork to be put under the hammer by a major auction house. As the artwork shot up to $69,346,250 on the final day, some 22 million people tuned in to follow the final minutes of the auction on Christie's website. Apart from the crazy price, surely this is the biggest valuation miscalculation in history!

NFT beat two other tech-based words on Collins’ shortlist of 10 words of the year: crypto, the short form of cryptocurrency, usage of which is up 468 percent year on year, according to Collins, and metaverse, a term coined by Neal Stephenson in his 1992 novel Snow Crash. Describing a three-dimensional virtual world – such as that planned by Meta, Mark Zuckerberg’s rebranded Facebook company – metaverse’s usage has increased 12-fold since 2020.

Collins placed cheugy (adjective, slang), meaning "no longer regarded as cool or fashionable," in second place, whilst climate anxiety was listed in third place.

Other words and phrases in the running included the Covid-focused pingdemic, hybrid working and double-vaxxed.


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