“Surreal” is 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.
Peter Sokolowski, Merriam-Webster’s editor at large, said:
It just seems like one of those years.
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.
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.
ASSUMPSIT: At the Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Warren was introduced by one her former law students at Harvard, Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III of Massachusetts. He described how on his first day she asked him for the definition of assumpsit and he didn’t know.
For the record: It’s a legal term with Latin roots for a type of implied promise or contract. Kennedy didn’t define it when he told the story.
FAUTE DE MIEUX: Literally, this French phrase means “lack of something better or more desirable.” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used it in a brief concurring opinion in June to support a ruling that struck down a Texas law that would have closed all but nine abortion clinics in the state.
IN OMNIA PARATUS: A Latin phrase for “ready for all things.” Curiosity surfaced when Netflix revived “Gilmore Girls” recently, including reference to this famous chant during an episode in the original series where Rory is talked into leaping off a high platform as part of the initiation for a secret society at Yale. It became a rallying cry for fans of the show.
REVENANT: Leonardo DiCaprio played one in a movie of the same name, sending people scurrying to the dictionary. It describes “one that returns after death or a long absence.” It can be traced to the 1820s and while it sounds biblical, it is not, Sokolowski said.
FECKLESS: It’s how Vice President-elect Mike Pence described President Obama’s foreign policy when he debated Democrat Tim Kaine. It means weak or worthless.