Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Surreal Is Unreal

Surreal. It's a word that's used all of the time. Surreal. Whenever everyone wants to describe something bizarre or strange, they say it is surreal. I worked as an office drone during 9/11, and a young woman who I worked with came rushing in. "Have you seen what's happening?" she gasped. "It's surreal."

But was it?

What does surreal really mean?

I looked it up. Surrealism is an artistic movement "aimed to liberate into the creative act the image-forming powers of the unconscious and so transcend reality as it is conceived by the day to day intelligence."

To transcend reality as it is conceived by the day to day intelligence. Surrealism is unreal. That which is happening, that which is real, cannot be surreal.

I don't mean to be a grouchy old stickler for language. Language evolves. That's part of its beauty. But why smuggle inaccurate definitions into words that already have a specific meaning, particularly when there are other words that already have the meaning you seek? Why not say that 9/11 was strange, bizarre, horrific, abnormal, crazy, ghastly, awful, sickening, terrifying, evil?

Why surreal? Surreal is unreal, not real. When we flush out the true meaning of a word and insert a new definition into it, we don't grow our language. We shrink it. And when we shrink our language, we shrink the range of our thought.

Incidentally, when I was looking up the definition of surreal, I came across the word Sugar Daddy. Yep. Sugar Daddy has made its way into The New Lexicon Webster's Dictionary Of The English Language. The definition is as follows, and I quote: (pop.) an elderly man who provides luxuries for the young woman he keeps as mistress.

That's progress! I would say it's surreal, but that's not the case. It's just plain ugly reality.

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