Merriam-Webster revised anti-vaxxer definition by one phrase
Claim: Merriam-Webster has changed the definition of “anti-Vaxxer”
Claims that Merriam-Webster changed the definition of “anti-Vaxxer” is making the rounds on social media.
“I wasn’t an anti-Vaxxer until they literally changed the definition.”reads the text of a Facebook post shared on December 6th.
Below the tweet is a screenshot from Merriam Webster’s website with an “anti-Vaxxer” definition that reads, “A person who is against vaccinations or laws that mandate vaccinations.” The poster underlined the second half of the definition in red.
“This new change turns anyone who believes in biological control of their own body into an anti-Vaxxer,” reads the post’s headline.
The post generated nearly 700 Interactions in less than four weeks.
But like previous posts on the Meriam-Webster definition of “vaccine”, this claim is false.
Merriam-Webster revised the definition of “Anti-Vaxxer” in early October to change a word, but the version shown in the post is the old version. The screenshot in the social media posts shows Merriam-Webster’s original definition of Anti-Vaxxer, which was implemented in 2018.
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USA TODAY reached out to social media users who shared the post to leave a comment.
Main definition has been revised from “laws” to “regulations”
Peter Sokolowski, editor at Merriam-Webster, emailed USA TODAY that the definition of “Anti-Vaxxer” was added to the online dictionary on February 28, 2018.
The latest update changed the reference to vaccine mandates.
According to an archived version of the dictionary’s website, Merriam-Webster previously said an “opponent of vaccination” is a “person who opposes vaccinations or laws that mandate vaccinations.”
This was revised on October 4th and read “a person who speaks out against the use of vaccines or mandatory vaccination regulations”.
“The reason for changing from ‘laws’ to ‘regulations’ is because overwhelming quotes show that the term is used in relation to vaccination guidelines for school districts, restaurants, concert venues and bars, and that many of these guidelines are not laws,” Sokolowski said .
In addition to changing the wording in the main definition, Meriam-Webster has made two further additions.
The first was the inclusion of “in particular a parent who is against their child’s vaccination” according to the main definition.
“(The use of the word ‘special’ is) to reflect an increasingly prominent use of the word to refer to a parent who is against vaccinating a child,” Sokolowski said.
Fact check: Lack of context in claim that Merriam-Webster changed the definition of ‘vaccine’
Second, the usage phrase “often used before another noun” was added to show how the term is used in relation to anti-Vaxxer feelings or anti-Vaxxer parents, Sokolowski said.
Laws vs. Regulations
Laws are passed by Congress or state legislatures and then signed by the president or governor, while ordinances are a broader category that includes executive ordinances and rules made by officials or agencies empowered to do so, according to Jennifer Laudano, Senior Director of Communications at the National Academy for State Health Policies.
“(Merriam-Webster’s amendment) is really a technical change, however, as executive orders and regulations are as enforceable as laws,” Laudano USA told TODAY via email.
Lindsay Wiley, director of the Health Law and Policy Program at American University, acknowledged that regulations are fundamentally lawful.
“Many experts, including myself, believe that both laws and regulations fall under the general label of ‘laws’,” Wiley USA told TODAY via email.
Vaccination requirements typically involve a combination of a law passed by law and one or more ordinances passed by an administrative agency to implement that law, Wiley said.
“If the state agency adds COVID-19 to the list of required vaccines, it is a law enforcement ordinance,” Wiley said.
Our assessment: partly wrong
Based on our research, we rate PARTIALLY FALSEclaims that Merriam-Webster changed the definition of “anti-Vaxxer”. Merriam-Webster revised the definition of “anti-Vaxxer” in early October to change “laws” to “regulations”. But that’s not what is shown in the social media post. The definition screenshot is Merriam-Webster’s original definition of “anti-vaxxe, r” which was implemented in 2018.
Our fact check sources:
- PolitiFact, May 17th No, Merriam-Webster hasn’t changed the definition of “anti-Vaxxer”
- USA TODAY, Nov. 30, fact check: Contextual claim that Merriam-Webster changed the definition of “vaccine”
- Peter Sokolowski, December 7th Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Merriam-Webster via Wayback Machine, accessed December 7, 2018 Archives of ‘Anti-Vaxxer’ Definition
- Merriam-Webster via Wayback Machine, accessed December 7, 2019 Archives of ‘Anti-Vaxxer’ Definition
- Merriam-Webster via Wayback Machine, accessed December 7, 2020 Archives of ‘Anti-Vaxxer’ Definition
- Merriam Webster, Retrieved December 7. Definition of ‘Anti-Vaxxer’
- Brian Dean Abramson, December 8th Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Lindsay Wiley, December 8th email exchange with the US TODAY
- Jennifer Laudano, December 8th email exchanges with the US TODAY
- Lead Stories, December 8th Fact Check: Merriam-Webster did NOT change the definition of “Anti-Vaxxer” to include a mandate section – it already existed
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