Stand up for the facts!

Misinformation isn't going away just because it's a new year. Support trusted, factual information with a tax deductible contribution to PolitiFact.

More Info

I would like to contribute

Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke May 17, 2021

No, Merriam-Webster didn’t change the definition of ‘anti-vaxxer’

If Your Time is short

  • Peter Sokolowski, editor at large of Merriam-Webster.com, said that the entry for “anti-vaxxer” was first added to the online dictionary in February 2018 and hasn’t been revised or changed since. It has always defined it as “a person who opposes vaccination or laws that mandate vaccination.”
     
  • Archived web pages show that the definition has been consistent since 2018. 
 

Merriam-Webster defines the word "anti-vaxxer" as "a person who opposes vaccination or laws that mandate vaccination." 

Online, some people are alleging that the dictionary powerhouse recently, sneakily changed the meaning of the word. 

The Russia-backed media organization RT wrote on May 12 that Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary was "again redefining language to fit a narrative, this time framing its definition of ‘anti-vaxxer’ to include not only people who oppose vaccination, but also those who are against inoculation mandates."

Young America’s Foundation tweeted that day that Merriam-Webster "updated its definition of ‘anti-vaxxer’ to include anyone who opposed mandatory vaccines." 

A screenshot of another tweet being shared on social media claims that "The Merriam-Webster dictionary has changed their definition of ‘anti-vaxxer’ to include ‘people who oppose laws that mandate vaccination.’ Welcome to 1984, this is The Ministry of Truth." 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)

Featured Fact-check

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large of Merriam-Webster.com, told us that the entry for "anti-vaxxer" was first added to the online dictionary in February 2018 and hasn’t been revised or changed since.

We found evidence to support that. 

An archived page of the "anti-vaxxer" entry from Nov. 25, 2018, shows the same definition as today. That’s also true for archived pages from 2019, 2020, and 2021.  

Two years ago, someone cited the definition in response to a Quora question about "the exact definition of an anti-vaxxer," and it’s referenced in a November 2018 HuffPost story about a screenwriter who compared the word "anti-vax" to a racial slur. 

The current definition has existed online for more than three years, since it was first added to the dictionary, according to Merriam-Webster.

We rate posts that claim otherwise False.

 

Our Sources

Instagram post, May 14, 2021

Merriam-Webster, Anti-vaxxer, visited May 17, 2021

Merriam-Webster, Anti-vaxxer archived page, Nov. 25, 2018

Merriam-Webster, Anti-vaxxer archived page, Oct. 30, 2019

Merriam-Webster, Anti-vaxxer archived pages, visited May 17, 2021

RT, Merriam-Webster online dictionary expands definition of ‘ANTI-VAXXER’ to include those who oppose FORCED JABS, May 12, 2021

Young America’s Foundation tweet, May 12, 2021

Peter Sokolowski retweet, May 14, 2021

Quora, What is the exact definition of an anti-vaxxer? 2019

HuffPost, ‘Shrek’ writer Terry Rossio likens being called ‘anti-vax’ to being called racial slur, Nov. 24, 2018

Email interview with Peter Sokolowski, editor at large, Merriam-Webster.com, May 17, 2021

 

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Ciara O'Rourke

No, Merriam-Webster didn’t change the definition of ‘anti-vaxxer’

Support independent fact-checking.
Become a member!

In a world of wild talk and fake news, help us stand up for the facts.

Sign me up