Merriam-Webster Dictionary Chooses ‘Surreal’ As Word Of The Year For 2016

Merriam-Webster Dictionary has decided that out of all the words in their dictionary they could use to describe the year 2016, “surreal” comes the closest to events that the world has experienced. As such, Merriam-Webster Dictionary have named surreal as their word of the year.

The definition of surreal as described by Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,” or “unbelievable, fantastic.”

While 2016 has been a year of decidedly unbelievable events, there have been other such moments in history before. The art movement known as Surrealism was developed in the 1920s and grew out of another movement that was known as Dada. Artists during this period in time were immersed in the harsh realities of life during World War I, and as they grew to increasingly disenchanted with what they saw, strove to create new realities for themselves.

Photograph of Andre Breton in 1925.
Andre Breton, who defined the term ‘Surrealism’ in his 1924 Surrealist Manifesto. The photograph of Breton was taken by French portraitist Felix Bonnet in 1925. [Image by Francois Mori/AP Images]

While the word “surrealist” itself was technically a term created by writer Guillaume Apollinaire when he used the word in a 1903 play, it was Andre Breton that came up with a firm definition of surrealism when he published his Surrealist Manifesto in 1924.

Breton’s definition of surrealism was “pure psychic automatism, by which it is intended to express, verbally, in writing, or by other means, the real process of thought. Thought’s dictation, in the absence of all control exercised by the reason and outside all aesthetic or moral preoccupations.”

While the year 2016 hasn’t seen any world wars like the Surrealists experienced, we have had our fair share of oddities. Merriam-Webster noted spikes in people looking up the word surreal this year, the BBC reports. Spikes were seen after events like the Bastille Day massacre in Nice, the attempted coup in Turkey and the attack in Brussels in March.

The year 2016 also saw the loss of more artists than we we would generally see in one year. Starting with the death of David Bowie in 2016 and continuing with Prince’s death in April, the world was turning decidedly surreal. We also saw the U.K. choose to leave the European Union with their June 23 Brexit vote, despite the widespread idea that this would never happen.

However, despite all of the other things happening in the world, the largest spike of all in searches for the word surreal occurred after the reality television star Donald Trump was elected president of the United States. Merriam-Webster Dictionary’s editor, Peter Sokolowski, wasn’t at all surprised.

“It just seems like one of those years.”

In USA Today, Sokolowski discussed what happened with spikes of interest in words.

“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 tragedy, most notably in the days following 9/11, but it was associated with a wide variety of stories this year.”

David Bowie in 1975
David Bowie in 1975. David Bowie’s death was one of the many ‘surreal’ events that occurred during 2016. [Image by RTN – MediaPunch/AP Images]

When Merriam-Webster decided that surreal was their word of the year, they did this by tracking two pieces of data, which is how they normally determine their word of the year. They do this by noting what has been receiving high volumes of lookups and also track words to see which ones have year by year increases.

The dictionary first began looking at search trends in 1996 and noticed the same trend after similar tragedies around the world.

“We noticed the same thing after the Newtown shootings, after the Boston Marathon bombings, after Robin Williams’ suicide.”

If you are wondering what other words were close contenders for word of the year, we see “deplorable,” the word that Hillary Clinton used when describing Donald Trump and his followers. “Bigly” was another popular word after Donald Trump was heard using it.

While the world may seem surreal to many this year, Merriam-Webster will continue to track searches closely to see what next year’s new word will be.

[Featured Image by Bebeto Matthews/AP Images]