Oxford declares 2017 Word of the Year is ‘vaxx’ — in a new word that users hate

The Oxford Dictionaries website has named “vaxx” as its word of the year for the 2017-18 term, the site announced on Tuesday. It said that the word, which has been associated with a wave…

Oxford declares 2017 Word of the Year is ‘vaxx’ — in a new word that users hate

The Oxford Dictionaries website has named “vaxx” as its word of the year for the 2017-18 term, the site announced on Tuesday. It said that the word, which has been associated with a wave of false anti-vaccination propaganda, had been its most popular choice overall.

Vaxx, or fake news, has become the moniker for an anti-vaccination movement that has become increasingly prevalent over the past few years. The movement essentially suggests that the real and positive side effects of vaccines are hyped up and that many are put in harm’s way by the drugs, not the other way around. It is particularly common in the far-right movement, which relies heavily on pseudo-science like the assertion that vaccinations can cause cancer and that since anti-vaxx proponents (particularly Mike Cernovich, a well-known conspiracy theorist) are believers in the belief that vaccines kill, it is very easy for them to make this fear more concrete — and hence, more credible.

Social media has been used heavily in this effort and Oxford’s decision to use the term as its 2017 Word of the Year is a sign that social media will continue to be used for propaganda purposes in the years to come. And the fact that “vaxx” was both the most searched term on its website and its fastest rising word at the top of its leaderboard suggests that many people search for the word and will forward these searches to their friends, exacerbating the noise created by anti-vaxxers.

The terms “Kremlin hoax” and “doxxing” also appeared in the top 10 of the word’s popularity. “Kremlin hoax” is also meant to be a slur against those who accept Russia’s actions in 2016 as legitimate, while “doxxing” is meant to be a harassment tactic against people who “doxx,” or reveal personal information.

In other words, people on Twitter could be clicking on the search engine just to make it look like that they are searching for something else — sometimes even just to convey the impression that they are searching for something else. The Oxford Dictionaries website also noted that its suggestion for a word of the year was actually backed by two thirds of its user-review ratings, suggesting that “vaxx” did really do top the list.

Of course, the people who created the “vaxx” phrase and those who use it have never been seen as “hip” among their peers. Even the word’s status with the literal word-of-the-year set, such as scientists, has been contested.

Among Oxford readers, some mentioned that it’s a shame to have to defend a term that has a positive meaning and uses that as a point of discussion. For many users of the word, “vaxx” is a matter of principle. “An argument that people who deny vaccines do not practice a democratic view of their country’s future,” wrote one user on the website. And the sentiment appears to have struck a chord with people who are wary of the argument that modern science and technology are taking over. “Technology is coming to change everything,” wrote another. “And sometimes it’s an incorrect indicator of what people want to live in.”

Oxford does claim that it completely avoids picking its words based on any political bias. “Our Word of the Year 2017 is neither right nor left wing, nor left,” wrote its editorial team. “Vaxx is a word of the year because it speaks to the increasing complexity, to the challenges of how to come to terms with information in a world in which democracy is breaking down around us.”

Read the full story at The New York Times.

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