Each year, Merriam-Webster selects one word as the official “Word of the Year.” For 2016, that word was “surreal.”
1) 'Surreal' is one of the most common lookups following a tragedy— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) December 19, 2016
2) 'Surreal' is our 2016 Word of the Yearhttps://t.co/O7azAyRQC1
The “Word of the Year” based on two kinds of high-volume lookups – perennial words that are looked up day in and day out, and words that spike due to politics, news events, pop culture, or sports.
“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,” Peter Sokolowski, Editor at Large for Merriam-Webster, said in a statement. “Historically, ‘surreal’ has been one of the words most searched after tragedy, most notably in the days following 9/11, but it was associated with a wide variety of stories this year.”
According to Merriam-Webster, “surreal” had three major spikes of interest that were not only higher in volume but were sustained for longer periods of time than in past years. In March, “surreal” was used to cover the Brussels terror attacks. Then, in July, the word spiked again; the term was used to describe the coup attempt in Turkey in addition to appearing in reports of the terrorist attack in Nice. In November, “surreal” had its all-star moment, thanks to the U.S. election.
Merriam-Webster defines “surreal” as “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” Synonyms include “fantastic” and “unbelievable.”
“The word surreal is always spontaneous,” Sokolowski told TIME. “It’s not cued by the press. People simply go to the dictionary. And that tells me something. … This is something that must have helped somebody, at some moment, understand what we were all going through together.”
Other notable words for 2016 include the following.
- In Omnia Paratus (Thank you, Gilmore Girls)
- Faute de Mieux
Merriam-Webster’s previous three Words of the Year have been somewhat of a bore with the suffix “-ism” in 2015, “culture” in 2014, and “science” in 2013.
In other wordsmith-worthy news, Oxford Dictionaries has also selected its International Word of the Year – “post-truth.” According to the Oxford University Press, usage of the adjective skyrocketed in the days following the “Brexit” referendum and the U.S. presidential election.
Oxford Dictionaries defines “post-truth” as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.”
“It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse,” Oxford Dictionaries President Casper Grathwohl said in a statement. “Fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.”
According to Katherine Martin, the head of U.S. dictionaries for Oxford University Press, “post-truth” was selected as the 2016 word of the year before results of the election were known.
“We choose words that are going to highlight the interplay between our words and our culture,” Martin said. The final word of the year is meant to be one that captures the “ethos, mood or preoccupations of that particular year and to have lasting potential as a word of cultural significance.”
“Given that usage of the term hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down, I wouldn’t be surprised if post-truth becomes one of the defining words of our time,” Grathwohl added.
Other words on Oxford Dictionaries shortlist included “adulting” and “hygee,” a term that refers to a “comfortable conviviality and feeling of contentment” central to Danish culture.
[Featured Image by Hugh Pinney/Getty Images]