"Twelve hours after Doe's death, Capt. Richard Roe and firefighter Sam Smith sat quietly in Station 4, watching the news on TV. It's not often that their department makes the news. For it to be for something tragic like this, involving firefighters they work closely with and with whom they share notes between shifts, the two said, was surreal."
I wonder if surreal was the firemen's word or the reporter's. Well, maybe we shouldn't be surprised to find surreal in the firehouse; it's everywhere else. ("That touchdown pass was surreal. No, these fries are what's surreal.") Looking up surreal in the on-line Merriam Webster, I came across a comment: "One of the most overused and misused words of the last decade."
MW defines surreal as "marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream; also 'unbelievable,' 'fantastic'." Nowadays, surreal also means "unusual" and either "pretty good" or "pretty bad," depending on the situation.
Surreal first came into use in the art world in the 1930s. The adjective was derived from the noun surrealism, which Random House says is "a style of art and literature developed principally in the 20th century, stressing the subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by automatism or the exploitation of chance effects, unexpected juxtapositions, etc." I had all that until the "etc." Seeking elaboration, I appealed to a higher authority, the Arkansas Times' art critic, Leslie Peacock. It's surreal how much she knows about the art stuff. She writes: "Salvador Dali is surreal, and so are Yves Tanguay and Max Ernst and Paul Delvaux. Andre Breton said it was to 'resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality,' which I guess means that surrealists paint dream-like scenes with the same technique they would use to paint your portrait, for example — realistically — but altered. Like your nose might be melting down your face, for example. But when teen-agers say surreal, they mean 'unexpected.' "
My nose melting down my face? Maybe she knows too much.
Long may she rein:
" 'I'm a good age for a marathoner,' Legstrong, 33, said. 'It's easy to get caught up in it. ... I need to reign it in a little, but I'm on a roll right now.' "