Posted by: Jack Henry | January 5, 2017

Editor’s Corner: Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

On December 19, Merriam-Webster announced its 2016 word of the year. It was the third dictionary publisher to do so (after Oxford Dictionaries and

Like (and unlike Oxford Dictionaries), Merriam-Webster honors an existing word, not a recent coinage.

In 2006 and 2007, Merriam-Webster tried letting website visitors vote for the word of the year. After voters chose a joke word (truthiness) and video game slang (w00t), Merriam-Webster reverted to using search volume as the main criterion.

Specifically, Merriam-Webster chooses an existing dictionary entry that had a significant increase in number of searches, compared to the previous year.

For 2016, Merriam-Webster honored the word surreal:

· surreal: marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream

Some of Merriam-Webster’s shortlisted words spiked in popularity after notable appearances in pop culture (revenant) or politics (bigly and deplorable). Surreal was unusual in that it had multiple spikes throughout the year.

“Beginning with the Brussels terror attacks in March, major spikes included the days following the coup attempt in Turkey and the terrorist attack in Nice, with the largest spike in lookups for surreal following the U.S. election in November,” according to Merriam-Webster. “Surreal is looked up spontaneously in moments of both tragedy and surprise, whether or not it is used in speeches or articles.”

Merriam-Webster noted, “Surreal was also used in its original sense, referring to incongruous or unrealistic artistic expression, in reviews for the movie The Lobster.”

You can read about the other finalists for word of the year at

Ben Ritter | Technical Editor | Symitar®
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