Fresh Air (NPR), “‘Horrific’ And ‘Surreal’: The Words We Use To Bear Witness”

April 26, 2013

Geoff Nunberg, “‘Horrific’ And ‘Surreal’: The Words We Use To Bear Witness” (NPR Fresh Air, Apr. 26, 2013)

There was another word that kept appearing in the stories about Boston and Texas, “surreal.” That one didn’t come from the public figures and commentators the way horrific did — as Ben Zimmer pointed out in The Boston Globe, it bubbled up from the firsthand reports of the witnesses on the scene. You could think of the two words as bookends. The things we see as horrific have an indisputable realness that we alternately confront and shrink away from. While “surreal” is the word we reach for when reality threatens to overwhelm us, till it takes on what Merriam-Webster defines as the “intense irrational reality of a dream.” Though in these settings, it’s more often another kind of unreality that comes to mind. “It was surreal,” people kept saying, “like a scene in a movie.”

Read the rest here.

Previous post:

Next post: