Three time Olympian Australian swimmer Cate Campbell (L) receives her dose of Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine against Covid-19 (Photo by Patrick HAMILTON / AFP)

Posts falsely claim Merriam-Webster ‘changed dictionary definition of anti-vaxxer’

Copyright AFP 2017-2023. All rights reserved.

Facebook posts shared in May 2021 claim the US dictionary Merriam-Webster “changed [its] definition of anti-vaxxer” to include “people who oppose laws that mandate vaccination”. The claim is false: Merriam-Webster told AFP its definition of the term has not changed since its inception in 2018. Archived versions of the dictionary’s website also show its definition of the term has not changed since 2018. 

The claim was shared by a New Zealand-based Facebook user here.

A screenshot of the post, taken June 4, 2021.

The post includes a screenshot of this tweet which reads: “The Merriam-Webster dictionary has changed its definition of anti-vaxxer’ to include people who oppose laws that mandate vaccination’.” 

The tweet includes a screenshot of the Merriam-Webster dictionary entry for “anti-vaxxer” on its website.

InfoWars, a website renowned for spreading conspiracy theories, reported similar claims in early May.

The claim was shared as the deluge of misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic continued to circulate online. AFP has debunked some of the major claims here

The claim has been shared hundreds of times by Facebook users around the world, including here, here and here

The claim, however, is false. 

Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor-at-large, told AFP the dictionary’s definition for anti-vaxxer “has not been revised since first appearing” in 2018. 

“There has therefore been no ‘expansion’ of this entry or definition,” he said. 

An archived version of the anti-vaxxer entry on the Merriam-Webster website from 2018 confirms this.

It shows the same entry as referenced in the misleading posts.

Below is a screenshot comparison of the Merriam-Webster entry from 2018 (L) and the entry featured in the misleading posts (R):