A ‘surreal’ year: 9 times 2016 lived up to Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year

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CHICAGO — Merriam-Webster selected “surreal” as its Word of the Year for 2016, due to a spike in the number of people looking up the word on its website, and the media’s use to describe everything from the terrorist attacks in Brussels, Belgium to the outcome of the U.S. presidential election.

The dictionary definition of surreal is “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.”  It’s a relatively new term, according to the dictionary, dating back to the artistic movement of surrealism in the early 1900s, which attempted to depict the unconscious mind.

“Surreal is often looked up spontaneously in moments of both tragedy and surprise, whether or not it is used in speech or writing. This is not surprising: we often search for just the right word to help us bring order to abstract thoughts, emotions, or reactions. Surreal seems to be, for 2016, such a word,” the dictionary wrote in announcing its pick.

Here are 9 “surreal” stories of 2016:

1. Cubs win the World Series. Really.

Perhaps no story was more surreal for Chicagoans than the Cubs finally winning the World Series after 108 years of waiting. Plenty of fans were pinching themselves through the playoffs and all the way until the final out of the dramatic Game 7.

“It’s surreal to me. It’s everything I waited for in my life,” said Cubs fan John Hickey. It seemed like a dream, but it was real. We promise.

2. Donald Trump runs for president – and wins

Merriam-Webster cited the presidential election as one of the biggest drivers of the use of the word “surreal,” with people using the word many times as Donald Trump’s candidacy gained popularity and he ultimately upset Hillary Clinton on election night. In particular, stories like Trump admitting Obama was born in the U.S. and Trump’s “small hands” reference during the GOP debate were described as surreal moments, although there were many others.

3. Separated twins move to rehab after emotional hospital farewell

The story of Jadon and Anias McDonald, twins who were born joined at the head and then successfully surgically separated, captivated millions around the world.

“It’s almost surreal. I can’t believe this is finally happening,” said their father Christian McDonald.

Photo by Seph Lawless

Photo by Seph Lawless

4. PHOTOS: Inside the abandoned Lincoln Mall in Matteson, 2 years after it closed
Photographer Seph Lawless captured images of the abandoned Lincoln Mall in south suburban Matteson, which will have been closed two full years in January 2017.

“It was surreal being inside of the abandoned mall,” Lawless said. “I felt like I was the last person alive and the world had ended. It was frightening but also very peaceful.”

5. Impressive singing contest breaks out on late-night CTA bus

When an impromptu sing-off broke out between two CTA bus passengers, it was one of the rare instances where loud passengers actually received applause from their fellow bus riders. One of them said the experience was pretty surreal.

6. ‘El Chapo’ secretly met Sean Penn in Mexican jungle before his arrest

Three months after drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman escaped from prison, he sat down with actor Sean Penn for an hours-long secret interview in a mountainous Mexican jungle. Guzman was later recaptured when the Mexican navy raided a home in the coastal city of Los Mochis.

7. Dwyane Wade discusses his decision to join the Bulls on “Live With Kelly”

Dwyane Wade co-hosted the morning talk show “Live With Kelly” about 12 hours after he decided to return to his hometown of Chicago and join the Bulls after 13 seasons with the Miami Heat.

“It’s still surreal, I’m still numb,” Wade told Kelly Ripa as the show began.

8. Dash cam records driver using pressure washer to fight off carjackers

A Shreveport, LA man hosed down a couple of would-be carjackers as they attempted to rob him while he was washing his car.

“I heard his friend try to run and get my backside so I turned around and sprayed him and hit him and they took off running,” recalled Michael Davis, “The whole situation to me was almost surreal.”

9. Earthquake shakes swath of Midwest from Missouri to Oklahoma

An earthquake in the Midwest? It really happened, and was felt throughout a swath of the Great Plains from Nebraska to North Texas.