Leanne Itale in The Independent:
Was 2016 a dream or a nightmare? Try something in between: “surreal,” which is US dictionary Merriam-Webster's word of the year. 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 November 9, the day Donald Trump went from candidate to president-elect. There were also smaller spikes, including after the death of Prince in April at age 57 and after the June shootings at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida. Irony mixed with the surreal for yet another bump after the March death of Garry Shandling. His first sitcom, It's Garry Shandling's Show, premiered on Showtime in 1986 and had him busting through the fourth wall, speaking directly to the audience and mimicking his real life as a standup comedian, but one who knew he was starring in a TV show. “It was surreal and it's connected to the actual original meaning of surreal, which is to say it comes from Surrealism, the artistic movement of the early 20th century,” Sokolowski said. Which is to say that “surreal” didn't exist as a word until around 1924, after a group of European poets, painters and filmmakers founded a movement they called Surrealism. They sought to access the truths of the unconscious mind by breaking down rational thought. It wasn't until 1937 that “surreal” began to exist on its own, said Sokolowski, who is a lexicographer.