– There are essentially two kinds of high-volume-look- ups in the dictionary. Perennial words that are looked up frequently, day in day out. And words that show spikes of interest according to news events, politics, pop culture, sports, anything that reaches a big audience. The perennial words are at the top of our all-time look-up list. And are consistently looked-up, year after year. They tend to be abstract words like, integrity and pragmatic. Or vocabulary words like ubiquitous and paradigm. Or words that have been very prominent in the national conversation for a long time and have risen to the top, like socialism, fascism, and democracy. For the word of the year we rule out evergreen words. Comparing a word’s total look-ups with the previous years look-ups. That can mean a very significant single spike. Or in the case of our word of the year, a series of them. Our word of the year is one that people came back to over and over again, in response to different events. And it gives us a look at 2016 according to what sent us to the dictionary. The word of the year for 2016 is surreal. Surreal had three major spikes in interest, that were higher in volume and were sustained for longer periods of time than in past years. In March, the word was used in coverage of the Brussels terror attacks. Then in July we saw the word spike again. It was used in descriptions of the coup attempt in Turkey and in coverage of another terrorist attack. This time in Nice. Finally, we saw the largest spike in look-ups for surreal, following the US election in November. The definition of surreal is “Marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” We also give the synonyms, unbelievable and fantastic. Our other top look ups this year also tell us a lot about what makes us curious about words. Among them is the word bigly. Easily the most looked up word that was never actually used. Since Donald Trump used the term big league in an unusual way, as an adverb during a debate. And many people thought he said bigly, which is entered in our dictionary but it’s a rarely used word. Another word that had a large, single spike is deplorable. Which was also used in an unusual way by Hillary Clinton. It’s defined in our dictionary only as an adjective, but she used it as a noun. These two terms show clearly that many people turn to the dictionary not just for definitions or the ideas behind them but for grammar too. Following the World Series win by the Chicago Cubs, a broadcaster used the nonstandard word irregardless, which sent many people to the dictionary. Irregardless is, indeed, a real word but we advise strongly against using it. Use regardless instead. Mike Pence used the word feckless, in the Vice Presidential Debate. It means weak or ineffective and it had a large spike. Icon is the word that spiked in April. In a moment of collective sadness at the news of Prince’s death. The whole country got a vocabulary lesson at the Democratic Convention when Congressman Joe Kennedy told a story about being a student in Elizabeth Warren’s law class. She asked him if he knew what the word assumpsit means. And then said, “Mr. Kennedy, do you own a dictionary?” This made dictionary editors happy and sent look-ups for assumpsit sky high. It means a kind of legal promise or contract. Also connected to the law, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used the French expression faute de mieux in a written decision. Faute de mieux means for lack of something better. Foreign phrases that are frequently used in English are included in the dictionary. Another example of a foreign language phrase that spiked was in omnia paratus. A Latin phrase that means ready for all things, which spiked when the revival of the Gilmore Girls was released. Another show biz word takes us back to the beginning of 2016, revenant. The frontier film starring Leonardo DiCaprio was a word frequently looked up from the films release through his Oscar win. The dictionary is a neutral observer of the culture. We can’t always know the reason a person looks up a word in the dictionary, we only know when. We’re good at reading data, we’re not good at reading minds. But we do know this, curiosity is not ignorance. We look up obscure words and common ones. And whether it’s for spelling, pronunciation, or meaning one thing is clear. We come to the dictionary for facts about words.