Spectacular Vernacular

The Year of the “Vaxx”

Two top dictionary editors tell us about the selection process for Word of the Year.


Episode Notes

On today’s episode of Spectacular Vernacular, Nicole and Ben pay tribute to the late pioneer in linguistics and cognitive science, Lila Gleitman. They also interview Peter Sokolowski of Merriam-Webster and Fiona McPherson of the Oxford English Dictionary about the keywords of 2021. And finally, we bring on a listener for some wordplay. We hope you’re familiar with the diversity of English dialects. You could win a year’s membership to Slate Plus.

Do you have any language questions or fun facts to share? Email us at spectacular@slate.com.

Produced by Jasmine Ellis and Asha Saluja.

Here are some notes and references from this week’s show:
Lila Gleitman’s obituary in the New York Times 
Lila Gleitman’s interview at the 2017 Association for Psychological Science conference 
Oxford Languages Word of the Year 
Merriam-Webster Word of the Year 
American Dialect Society Word of the Year 
American Dialect Society’s 2021 Word of the Year livestream — register to join the virtual voting session! 


About the Show

Linguist Nicole Holliday and Wall Street Journal language columnist Ben Zimmer discuss the ways language is changing, talk to scholars and writers, and set and solve word puzzles.

All episodes


  • Ben Zimmer is a linguist, lexicographer, and all-around word nut. He is the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal and a contributing writer for the Atlantic.

  • Nicole Holliday is an assistant professor of linguistics at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on variation, intonation, and language in society.