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The new Leonardo DiCaprio film's title

A new film starring Leonardo DiCaprio as a bearded fur trapper on the frontier in 1823 has sent people to the dictionary to look up the word used as the film's title: revenant. The word was the most searched term on Merriam-Webster.com for weeks following the film's release in mid-December, 2015. Success at the 2016 Golden Globe Awards, where the film won three awards including Best Motion Picture, lead to another spike in lookups on January 10, 2016.

Photo: © 2015 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation

Revenant means "one that returns after death or a long absence," and comes from the French word that means "to return." It was first used to mean "ghost," "specter," or "wraith," and then developed the meaning "one who returns to a former place after prolonged absence"; both meanings seem to fit the new film, since DiCaprio's character is left for dead (not a spoiler—it's in the trailer) and returns to find his former companions.

The idea of returning from the dead, the word's echo of covenant, and maybe even DiCaprio's beard all give revenant a vaguely biblical character, but in fact the word doesn't appear in the Bible. Its first use in English, coincidentally, is almost exactly contemporary with the real-life incident depicted in the film, in the early 1800s.

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