Merriam-Webster's Word Of The Year Perfectly Describes How Strange 2016 Has Been

The results are finally in, and Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year is "surreal," which means that the Internet collectively beat "fascism." That's a victory worth celebrating, even if "surreal" isn't the kind of flummadiddle we were hoping for.

Merriam-Webster has chosen Words of the Year since 2003. Although generally believed to be the most-searched-for word each year, a term must show both a high and increased volume of lookups in order to become the revered dictionary's honored signifier. From Merriam-Webster:

There are essentially two kinds of high-volume lookups that we track: perennial words that are looked up day-in and day-out, and words that spike because of news events, politics, pop culture, or sports. By analyzing these spikes, we can get a sense as to what significant events sent people to the dictionary, and sometimes, what people think about those events.

Earlier this year, Merriam-Webster announced via Twitter that "fascism" was well on its way to becoming the Word of the Year for 2016, with lookups inspired by the multitudinous inquiries into whether or not the authoritarian President-elect Donald J. Trump is or is not a fascist. Having "fascism" be the word most associated with 2016 — a year already marked around the globe by the political terms "post-truth," "xenophobia," "democracy sausage," and "Bundespräsidentenstichwahlwiederholungsverschiebung" — was the unstomachable, rotten cherry on top of Spongebob's garbage sundae, and the Internet just couldn't take more disappointment.

Admittedly, surreal isn't the most positive Word of the Year we could have asked for, unlike "flummadiddle" and "puppies": words whose popularity surged following the Twitter warning. Merriam-Webster defines surreal as "marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream," and most folks will associate the word with the paintings of Salvador Dalí and Rene Magritte. In 2016, though, plenty of newscasters and witnesses used "surreal" to describe terrorist attacks in Europe and political unrest in Turkey. Merriam-Webster editor at large Peter Sokolowski tells Yahoo that the dictionary is familiar with the word, and that global events might not have been the only driving force behind its search volume:

[Surreal] was one of the most looked-up words after 9/11 and other tragedies: the Newtown shootings, the Boston Marathon bombing and the suicide of Robin Williams. We do know this word is associated with a kind of shock, and the surprise that I think a lot of people felt the day after the election.

"Surreal" beat out six other unique lookups this year, including "revenant," "bigly," and "in omnia paratus." Check out the other words on Merriam-Webster's 2016 Word of the Year shortlist here, and share your favorites with me on Twitter!

Images: Aaron Burden/Unsplash

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