A misleading viral claim about changes Merriam-Webster made to its definition for the word “vaccine” singles out one edit to imply a conspiratorial cover-up — and push false ideas about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. Let’s take a look at the facts.
A graphic showing screenshots of three versions of the definition for “vaccine” in Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary in 2021 from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine. The old definition that included a reference to increased “immunity” appears in the archive until Jan. 26, 2021. The current definition (as of Dec. 3, 2021) was online by June 1, 2021.
Misleading claims about changed definitions have circulated before, including about the pandemic, and often contain ambiguous conspiratorial overtones. In May 2021, the Russian state propaganda “news” outlet RT (Russia Today) falsely claimed that Merriam-Webster had changed its definition of “anti-vaxxer” in a strategic attempt “to fit a narrative” concerning vaccine mandates. This recent rumor about the definition of “vaccine” falsely suggests that there are powerful entities interested in covering up information about the efficacy (which is demonstrated) of COVID-19 vaccines.
Related: “‘Vaccine’ Is Merriam-Webster’s Word Of The Year 2021, Here’s How They Updated Their Definition” (Bruce Y. Lee, Forbes).
- “Fact check: Missing context in claim that Merriam-Webster changed 'vaccine' definition” (Sudiksha Kochi, USA Today).
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