“Surreal” has beaten “fascism” to become Merriam-Webster’s 2016 word of the year.
Defined by the dictionary as “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,” “surreal” is a relatively new word in English, having been first included in the dictionary in 1967.
“Spikes of interest in a word are usually triggered by a single event,” said Peter Sokolowski, editor-at-large for Merriam-Webster. “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.”
But the largest spike was after the U.S. election in November.
“‘Surreal’ is often looked up spontaneously in moments of both tragedy and surprise, whether or not it is used in speech or writing. This is not surprising: we often search for just the right word to help us bring order to abstract thoughts, emotions, or reactions. ‘Surreal’ seems to be, for 2016, such a word,” said :
We will be announcing our Word of the Year next week instead of this week!
Don’t look at us like that. It was a rough year.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) December 14, 2016
Until Nov. 29, “fascism” was Merriam-Webster’s most-looked-up word of the year.
The folks behind the dictionary’s Twitter account encouraged people to look up other words.
‘Fascism’ is still our #1 lookup.
# of lookups = how we choose our Word of the Year.
There’s still time to look something else up.
— Merriam-Webster (@MerriamWebster) November 29, 2016
Alas, “surreal” prevailed.