Minnesota Public Radio, “Word Watcher Charts Marathon Bombing’s Description as ‘Surreal'”

May 8, 2013

Interview on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Daily Circuit about the “surreal” words we use at times of collective tragedy.

As people in Boston and beyond struggled to make sense of the marathon bombings last month, the news media churned out reports that started to follow a pattern.

Ben Zimmer, the language columnist for The Boston Globe, spent time reflecting on the bombings and their impact on people’s reactions. He noted that the words used to describe the bombings mirrored a trend that followed 9/11: The word “surreal” popped up in both instances.

Writing in The Globe, Zimmer¬†offered a theory¬†about why this was so: People use the word “when our mundane day-to-day experiences of life seem to move into some other dimension that our rational minds cannot account for. As with 9/11, it is not surprising to see ‘surreal’ paired with ‘like a movie’: Cinematic images of terror, disaster, and panic may be our closest touchstones.”

With the rise of social media, it did not take long for “surreal” to spike in usage after the bombings. Along with “surreal,” other superlatives are often employed in the coverage of breaking news events.

Zimmer joins The Daily Circuit to talk about the use of superlatives and other language trends.

(Show page, related Boston Globe column, Word Routes column)

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