Dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster’s word of the year: ‘surreal’

"Surreal" means "fantastic," "unbelievable" or "marked by the intense irrationality of a dream," like this artwork, "The Flying Platypus" by Alexandre Bali. It's also the Merriam-Webster dictionary's 2016 word of the year, based on Internet searches of its definition. The searches were prompted by outbursts of terrorism during the year, as well as by Donald Trump's presidential election victory. Photo by Officialmetalfist/Wikimedia

SPRINGFIELD, Mass., Dec. 19 (UPI) — “Surreal” is 2016’s word of the year, the dictionary publisher Merriam-Webster announced Monday.

Online dictionary searches for “surreal” were common in 2016, notably after terrorist acts in Brussels and Nice during the year, as well as after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, the attempted military coup in Turkey and the Chicago Cubs‘ long-awaited capture of the World Series. The event causing the largest single spike in interest in the word was Donald Trump‘s victory in the U.S. presidential election.

The word actually means “unbelievable” or “fantastic,” and is defined by the lexicographer, based in Springfield, Mass. and a subsidiary of Encyclopedia Britannica, as “marked by the intense irrationality of a dream.”

“Spikes of interest in a word are usually triggered by a single event, so what’s truly remarkable this year about ‘surreal’ is that so many different stories led people to look it up. Historically, ‘surreal’ has been one of the words most searched after a tragedy, most notably in the days following 9/11, but it was associated with a wide variety of stories this year,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster editor.

The most-searched non-word in 2016 was “bigly,” a corruption of “big league,” often used by Trump. Other legitimate words which earned an increase in searches were “deplorable,” used by presidential candidate Hillary Clinton to describe half of Trump’s supporters; “icon,” which received interest after the death of rock star Prince and “revenant,” meaning a return of a person, typically from the dead. The word was the title of an Oscar-winning film starring Leonardo DiCaprio.


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