Flat White

What’s in a name? How Covid is changing our language

22 December 2021

9:00 AM

22 December 2021

9:00 AM

I have had most vaccinations available in Australia because I have travelled extensively and have always wanted to do so safely. Despite my near-complete collection of vaccinations, I am – according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary – an ‘anti-vaxxer’.

Merriam-Webster defined ‘anti-vaxxer’ in September to mean ‘a person who opposes the use of vaccines or regulations mandating vaccination’.

And before you can say ‘George Orwell’, they had classified and demonised a whole segment of the population.

You can be jabbed like a pin cushion, but if you don’t agree with mandated vaccinations, you are an anti-vaxxer.

I suppose that means the people who wrote the Universal Declaration on Human Rights were ‘anti-vaxxers’ too.

I’m a Christian, but I don’t think people should be forced to be Christians. Does that mean I’m ‘anti-Christian?’ Probably.

Contrary to Miriam-Webster’s banner which advertises ‘since 1828’ and so suggests language is defined according to time-honoured etymology, they seem to have now conceded that language is entirely political and that meaning is completely fluid.


The term ‘anit-vaxxer’ – defined in other publications such as the Oxford Dictionary simply as ‘someone who is opposed to vaccination’ – did not appear in Miriam-Webster’s dictionary until 2018 when it suddenly appeared – with a brand-new meaning…

Miriam-Webster decided to define an ‘anti-vaxxer’ as ‘a person who opposes the use of vaccines or laws mandating vaccination’. This September, the word ‘laws’ was replaced with ‘regulations’.

It is much easier to redefine words to simply discredit your ideological opponents than to marshal the correct words in a coherent argument.

This manipulation of dictionary definitions to smear anti-authoritarians as anti-vaxxers was embraced with zeal by Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner.

On November 22, speaking with an intensity that caused veins to bulge in his neck, he insisted:

I don’t care what your personal vaccinated status is. If you support anyone who argues against the vaccine you are an anti-vaxxer.

If you are out there in any way, shape or form campaigning against this mandate you are absolutely anti-vax. Shove it, stuff it. Anyone out there who comes for the mandate, you are anti-vax.’

One of the most pernicious ways in which we have been manoeuvred over the past two years has been by the manipulation of words.

Why bother with nuance, respectful dialogue or understanding when you can simply redefine anyone who disagrees with you right out of polite society?

Merriam-Webster might like to consider redefining ‘democracy’ in time for the next election so that the Chief Name Caller can tell every voter in his kingdom – vaxxed and unvaxxed alike – to ‘shove it’.

As English author Sir Terry Pratchett once quipped, ‘The thing about words is that meanings can twist just like a snake. If you want to find snakes, look for them behind words that have changed their meaning.’

We now routinely speak of people who died ‘with’ rather than ‘of’ Covid.

Vaccination now means providing ‘protection’ rather than ‘immunity’.

Myocarditis means ‘extremely rare side-affect hey look over there squirrel have you got your fourth booster shot yet or do you literally want people to die?’

At this rate, retro dictionaries, untainted by the truth police, are going to be the next Bitcoin.

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