Dictionary Merriam-Webster has selected surreal as the word of 2016

The lexicographer chose the word, meaning “unbelievable, fantastic,” after an increase in searches surrounding 2016 world events, including terrorist attacks and the US election. “Surreal” can also be defined as “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream” – adding to the appropriateness of this word for a year marked with unbelievable moments.

People are ready for this year to pass. Earlier this month, memes of “me at the beginning of 2016 vs me at the end of 2016” started to trend, depicting images of a tough year.

To understand who the people are who helped define the 2016 word of the year, I ran an unsupervised cluster analysis on anyone who had mentioned the term at least once over the past 30 days on Twitter. Individuals are naturally segmented using Affinio’s advanced graph engine and machine learning algorithm. Clustering is based on their interests indicated by their following patterns. The following is the visualization of the resulting clusters:

Immediately, we can see two trends emerge. The first, based on the reasoning for selecting the word, there are the expected clusters; #Brexit, Activist Writers, Democrats, #BlackLivesMatter, and Conservatives. The second are the several clusters that are centered around pop culture and fandom; Entertainment News, Demi Lovato Fans, Geeks, Fan Girls, Directioners, and Console Gamers.

Discovering these interest-based clusters lead me to assume that perhaps this audience was younger and that they may be using the word surreal in a different context than the reason for declaring it the word of the year. The following shows the age breakdown of the audience.

As suggested in the chart above, 53% of the people who have mentioned “Surreal” over the past 30 days are between 25-34 years old. Diving in further, I wanted to understand how this age group was using the word in context. As an example, here are sample tweets that individuals within the Fan Girls (31% 18-34, 62% 25-34) cluster created or engaged with.

These sample tweets give an indication that Millennials use the word in the “fantastic” context of the word as opposed to the shock of something unbelievable happening, like Brexit or Donald Trump.

While the word may have been chosen to reflect on the unbelievable events of 2016, it appears that the word was previously engrained in the vernacular of millennial pop culture enthusiasts.

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