This year, it’s been easy to feel like reality wasn’t completely real. In fact, we’ve argued as much, and it seems we aren’t alone. Merriam-Webster has named “surreal” their word of the year for 2016, following “post-truth,” which earned the title from the Oxford English dictionary.
Both words speak to what kind of year it’s been. Fake news has been proliferated online, not one, but two surprise election results shook the world in the form of Brexit and Donald Trump, and the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. “Surreal” earned the top spot over frequently searched words like “bigly” and “deplorable,” both of which have tinges of the American election.
Searches for “surreal” spiked several times throughout the year following violence and terrorist attacks, but, to no one’s surprise, they hit their highest point the day after Donald Trump won the presidency. Merriam-Webster defines the word as “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,” which fits the description of Trump’s election pretty well.
“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,” said Merriam-Webster editor at large Peter Sokolowski 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.”
There were some non-political entries on this year’s list of most-searched terms, including “icon,” which peaked following the death of Prince, and “revenant,” which was the name of the film that finally won Leonardo DiCaprio his Oscar.