The Word Of The Year Is . . .

the_persistence_of_memory. . . is surreal.

In the early 1800s, Noah Webster wrote the first American dictionary to show how American English is different than British English. His dictionary, now called Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is probably the most-used American English dictionary. Most of us grew up on it (used it in school from the time we were young).

Today Merriam-Webster tracks (records) the words that people look up on their website and apps. And at the end of the year, they identify the words of the year, words that were looked up (searched for) more than others. There are two kinds: first, what we might call everyday words – words that are looked up frequently all year, every year.

The second kind are words that people looked up because of events in the news. After something happens – in politics, popular culture (music, television, movies, etc.), or sports – the number of times people look up these words spikes (goes up suddenly). A short time later, the number drops. When we look at these words, they often tell us what people think or how they feel about those events. Surreal belongs to this second group.

Surreal describes something that is very strange, unreal, or difficult to understand, like something from a dream. It comes from the world of art. Surreal art – like the photo of Salvador Dali’s Persistence of Time – shows usual objects in unusual ways. Watches are usual. Hanging watches over tree branches and other objects are unusual. Common synonyms for surreal include unbelievable, fantastic (from fantasy; imagined but not real), unreal, and unusual.

Surreal spiked several times in 2016. The first was in March after the terror attack in Brussels, Belgium. It appeared twice in July – after the coup attempt (attempt to take control of the government) in Turkey and after the terror attack in Nice, France. The last and largest spike came after the U.S. presidential election. All of these were events that people had trouble understanding, describing, and thinking about.

Some other words had significant spikes during 2016. The musician Prince’s death last year sent many people to the dictionary to look up icon – someone many people know about and consider an important person. The Revenant, the movie that Leonardo DiCapro starred in and won an Academy Award for, caused many to look up the word revenant – a ghost or someone who has come back from being dead.

Did any events from 2016 send you to the dictionary? What did you look up?

~ Warren Ediger – ESL tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English website.

This post was based on information from the Merriam-Webster website.
Photo of Persistence of Memory courtesy of Wikipedia Commons.

This entry was posted in Language & Terms, Life in the United States. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to The Word Of The Year Is . . .

  1. emiliano says:

    The Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, is probably one of the best dictionaries that I have used by years.
    In fact it has been the dictionary I have always at hand and I have looked up thousand of time.
    Another good subject about this dictionary it is that it was really cheap, cheap and good, so it has the two best qualities a book could have.
    To be sincere Merriam has been my dictionary when I was reading an English book or a paper, instead of the Oxford or Cambridge dictionaries that I have too.
    I used Merrian so much that at the end the poor book was really gray and old, beside its pages were made of gray paper too, it could be of recycled paper that gives the dictionary another value at least for me.

    Having in mind all this I think it has been the best dictionary I have used along years and years.
    Nearly everything was in it and some doubts I could have and didn´t find in other at last Merriam Wester gave me the clue.

    Now is there an app?
    Logical after all there are apps nearly for everything now.

    I am looking to have it in the tablet or the pc. as soon as possible, so thank you Warren.


  2. emiliano says:

    Thinking about the virtues this dictionary has, the Merrian Westeer, I do think it has the possibility of find long sentences and English expressions even modism and phrases verbs that could be the most difficult subject for people who English is not their language, like me, that I didn´t find in other dictionaries that theoretically could be better, Collins. Cambridge or Oxford, but to me they are not so good as has been the Merrian Websteer dictionary.
    I really love it and was absolutely useful when I read “The Lord of the Rings” in English.
    It was the first long book I read and took me months to finish it, when it was over I felt myself really happy doing it and knowing that there is a great difference between a book in its real version, as the writer wrote it, and its translation.

    Regards. emiliano

  3. emiliano says:

    By the way I love Dali´s pictures, some years ago Cuca and me were in Figueras/
    Gerona/Cataluña where is the Dali Museum and we were trapped by all the pictures and things there are in the Museum.
    Afterward we went to Cadaques where Dali had his house with her wife and muse

    Beautiful city situated in “Gerona Costa Brava” in the north of Spain close near
    Pirineos and France frontier.

    I do think it is obliged if you visited Cataluña to see these art subjects done by
    genius as Dali, absolutely different of other Spanish genius as Picaso.

    Spanish style is to have individual genius, it has been for hundred of years and
    it is also today.



  4. emiliano says:

    Some how it is difficult or odd to me to be here so alone, where are you friends?.
    Don´t you have anything to say?.
    I think you have, even more looking to the news and the changes that are going
    to happen.
    For good? For bad? Who knows?.
    Something is happening having in mind the great women manifestation that have
    been in the Moll, just in front of the White House a day after the new President have taken the power in his hands.
    Even in other great cities of the world like London, Paris, Berlin or Barcelona has
    happened the same.
    Women´s revolution, that is really very good and I say Women to the Power, it is
    the time for them.

    By the way this man is not an hypocrite as he say just the same things he said when he wanted to be designed.
    He is an outsider, that´s real but who could say that this is for good or for bad?.

    I can´t say anything about this subject, it is necessary to wait and see, but here in Europe everybody is like in shock, why?. That could be a good question.
    A reply could be the words of Mr.Trump that said very clear “America First” and why not?.
    At least he is sincere and says what he thinks, ja,ja, more or less like me.


  5. lili:) says:

    Q: Did any events from 2016 send you to the dictionary? What did you look up?

    A: Did any events from 2016 send me to the dictionary? This is such a good question. It’s a good question because I had to use the dictionary every single day in 2016 and yet I can’t remember what events sent me to the dictionary.

    Everyday I read news from “BBC News” and I almost certainly will find some words that I don’t understand. Sometimes I don’t bother to look up the words because I feel I can understand the gist of the news; other times I am intrigued and rush to search the new word’s meaning from a number of dictionary apps.

    What did I look up in 2016? Sorry Warren I can’t remember what did I look up in 2016, but I remember looking up a word “extol” yesterday because I felt like adding one more new word in my vocabulary list.

    Anyway, many thanks again Warren for this article which helps me connect with the world famous Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. It has a lot of interesting games inside and I was inspired by it to learn how to play “sudoku” for the first time in my life.

    Best Wishes to you, Warren and all my teachers Jeff, Lucy; and all my friends here Emiliano, Tania, Peter, Dan, and ………….


  6. emiliano says:

    Good Lili, I don´t understand that word “extol” now I have to look up its meaning.
    So thanks to you.

    Just a pleasure you still are reading “our” blog that now seems “emiliano´s blog” as is he the only one who is writing along some time.

    I don´t know but I am going to follow for now………tomorrow?
    Tomorrow it is very far, as my dear Cuca says always.

    Have a nice good Reed Rooster of Fire Year, sure it will be good for you Liliy.

    My best wishes. emiliano

  7. emiliano says:

    Definition of extol
    extolled; extolling
    transitive verb
    to praise highly : glorify

    “from the Meriam Webster” Bravo.
    May be the best dictionary.

  8. Jose says:

    I enjoy read all the themes on this blog and all users replies. Through them I can improve my reading skills. Thanks a lot all of you.



  9. emiliano says:

    Thank you to you Jose and I think you write quite well, it is so good
    the fact of having new friends here.

    Regards and welcome


  10. ???? says:

    Merriam-Webster is a classic dictionary?I love it.

  11. emiliano says:

    I love it too dear ????

    To me the best.

  12. Jose says:

    Thank you Emiliano, I am putting in the effort to do well on writing, reading, listening and talking. I have been listening and reading ESLpodcast from almost two months ago. It has been a great experiencie and I feel that I have been improve my English skills, a little. There is a long way to walk in this big world of knowledge and English learning.

Comments are closed.