Life

'Surreal' is Merriam-Webster's 2016 Word of the Year

The announcement of Word of the Year has become a tradition as dependable and lauded as the countdown at midnight on the 31st. This year, the choice of 'surreal' fits like a glove.
(Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The announcement of Word of the Year has become a tradition as dependable and lauded as the countdown at midnight on the 31st. We look to lexophiles to help us frame our every trip around the sun with the mot juste. All dictionary outfits take part. The Oxford English Dictionary has already given us 'post-truth' (last year was the laughing-and-crying emoji) and dictionary.com claims 'xenophobia' is 2016's proper designation. Read into those what you will. But the year of our (someone's?) lord 2016 has the good folks at Merriam-Webster offering up 'surreal'. And it fits like a glove. Just one with tentacle fingers and teeth around the opening, I guess.

'Surreal', as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a thing "marked by the intense irrationality of a dream; also: Unbelievable, Fantastic." Huh. We get the word from a back-formation of 'surrealism', the avant-garde art movement that sought to release the creative wonder of the unconscious mind via the irrational juxtaposition of images. Think Dali, melted clocks in a desert landscape and elephants with obnoxiously long, skinny legs. Or maybe picture some work by Magritte (think bright green apple over the face of a business man wearing a bowler hat). Sidebar: Dali published a cookbook once.

(Source: taschen.com)

If you still need to be sold on 'surreal' as this year's word of honour, consider this: PokémonGo briefly hijacked our physical world — and the brains of kids and adults alike. As did VR porn (adults only this time). We lost categorical legends from the performing arts like David Bowie, Prince and Alan Rickman, all in a short span. And just last month, Leonard Cohen. Par for the course, as ever, was the terrible violence we visited on one another, only this time it feels as if more of it was recorded by phone cameras than ever.

We mourned Harambe, the Zika virus scared us silly, Scrotox became a thing, the most remote galaxy to date was detected by the Hubble Telescope, a successful head transplant was performed in China, Kanye's ego somehow got bigger when we wished it would shrink three sizes, bionic penis transplants were a raging success, there's a potential HIV vaccine and a Full House spin-off entitled Fuller House happened (yes, Kimmy Gibbler is in it). Irrational, fantastical and dreamlike. Beyond belief. 'Surreal'. Check, check and checkity-check.

For Merriam-Webster, the word of the year is chosen, at least in part, on search traffic. Clear definitions of 'surreal' dominated searches on more than one occasion. But three major events in particular were punctuated with 'surreal' search traffic: March's terrorist attacks in Brussels, July's failed Turkish coup and, most recently, November's presidential election, which most will agree was the melting clock on the sundae.

That 'surreal' is 2016's word rings true for many. Merriam-Webster stated: "We often search for just the right word to help us bring order to abstract thoughts, emotions, or reactions." Still searching over here. Thankfully, we can turn to art to make sense of it all. Let's look at Butcher Billy for a spell. In an artistic act of prescience, the artist created a whole bunch of Magritte X Trump-inspired surrealist works.

Check out Butcher Billy on Instagram. He's great. Unsurprisingly, political cartoons have long relied on surrealist symbolism. See exhibit A below, by Mark Bryan.

There were other notable word searches in 2016 according to Merriam-Webster but 'surreal' got the lion's share. The runner's up were 'bigly' (Trump's lazy pronunciation of "Big League"), 'deplorable' (deserving censure or contempt), 'Faute de Mieux' (for want of a better alternative), 'feckless' (lacking initiative or strength of character), 'icon' (an object of uncritical devotion) and finally, the Latin 'In Omnia Paratus', which spiked when Gilmore Girls hit Netflix, truly. Oh, it means "ready for all things".

Fair enough. Come at me 2017.


Marc Beaulieu is a writer, producer and host of the live Q&A show guyQ LIVE @AskMen.