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The Boston Globe

Ideas

The word

Why ‘surreal’ took over

In the hours after Monday’s bombing attack at the Boston Marathon, Merriam-Webster editor at large Peter Sokolowski was monitoring the words most frequently looked up on the dictionary’s website. At 4 p.m., it was “casualty.” At 5 p.m., “incendiary.” At 6 p.m., “terrorism.”

In the evening hours, the mood reflected in the top lookups grew more pensive. At 8 p.m., the new leader was “tragedy.” And then came a word that so often crops up when people try to come to grips with startling, horrifying events: “surreal.”

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