Merriam-Webster’s word of the year: surreal

By The Associated Press

NEW YORK– Was 2016 a dream or a nightmare?

Try something in between: “surreal,” which is Merriam-Webster’s word of the year, unveiled Monday.

Meaning “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream,” or “unbelievable, fantastic,” the word joins Oxford’s “post-truth” and Dictionary.com’s “xenophobia” as the year’s top choices.

“It just seems like one of those years,” said Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large.

The company tracks year-over-year growth and spikes in lookups of words on its website to come up with the top choice. This time around, there were many periods of interest in “surreal” throughout the year, often in the aftermath of tragedy, Sokolowski said.

Major spikes came after the Brussels attack in March and again in July, after the Bastille Day massacre in Nice and the attempted coup in Turkey. All three received huge attention around the globe and had many in the media reaching for “surreal” to describe both the physical scenes and the “mental landscapes,” Sokolowski said.

The single biggest spike in lookups came in November, he said, specifically Nov. 9, the day Donald Trump went from candidate to president-elect.

Other words that made Merriam-Webster’s Top 10 for 2016 due to significant spikes in lookups:

BIGLY: Yes, it’s a word but a rare and sometimes archaic form of “big,” dating to around 1400, Sokolowski said. It made its way into the collective mind thanks to Trump, who was fond of using “big league” as an adverb but making it sound like bigly.

DEPLORABLE: Thank you, Hillary Clinton and your basket full of, though it’s not technically a noun.

IRREGARDLESS: It’s considered a “nonstandard” word for regardless.

It’s best avoided, Sokolowski said. Irregardless was used during the calling of the last game of the World Series and its use was pilloried on social media, he said.

ICON: This spike came after Prince’s April 21 death, along with surreal. “It was just a moment of public mourning, the likes of which really happen very seldom,” Sokolowski said.