'Surreal' is Merriam Webster's word of the year for 2016

Surreal: “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.”

Surreal: "marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.”

This is Merriam-Webster's word of the year for 2016. So why did the dictionary choose "surreal," a word many of us associate with artists like Salvador Dali?

Because people looked up the word significantly more frequently in 2016 compared to previous years, and there were multiple occasions throughout the year that this word was "the one clearly driving people to their dictionary," Merriam-Webster said.

Peter Sokolowski, editor at large for Merriam-Webster, goes into more detail about how the word of the year is chosen in this video.

"Our word of the year is one that people came back to over and over again in response to different events, and it gives us a look at 2016 according to what sent us to the dictionary," Sokolowski explains.

Spiked by major events

Surreal was used and looked up often in 2016 after major events like Prince's death, the shooting at Pulse night club in Orlando, and the Brexit vote, Merriam Webster says.

But there were a few times when the word really spiked in popularity: during coverage of the Brussels terror attacks in March, and in July, after the coup attempt in Turkey and the terrorist attack in Nice.

Finally, the largest spike came in November, after Donald Trump won the U.S. election.

"When we don’t believe or don’t want to believe what is real, we need a word for what seems 'above' or 'beyond' reality. Surreal is such a word," Merriam-Webster said.

Other popular words in 2016

These are the other nine words that Merriam-Webster says people looked up the most his year:

  • Revenant
  • Icon
  • In Omnia Paratus
  • Bigly
  • Deplorable
  • Irregardless
  • Assumpsit
  • Faute de Mieux
  • Feckless

Other publications have already named their word of the year. Oxford Dictionary picked "post-truth" for its connection to the presidential election, while Dictionary.com chose "xenophobia" for its tie to big news stories this year like police shootings, Syria’s refugee crisis, the Brexit vote, transsexual rights, and the presidential election.

Last year, Merriam Webster named a suffix as its word of the year, because seven of the top words ended in "ism."

Next Up