Lookups for surreal spiked following the terrorist attacks in Brussels on 3/22. The word was used in several eyewitness accounts reported in the news media:
“It was very surreal…it was like everything was going in slow motion.”
“It was all a bit surreal.”
“It has been surreal, I’m rattled.”
“It’s very surreal to see pictures of the airport.”
Surreal is looked up frequently following tragedies, including 9/11, the Newtown shootings, the Boston Marathon bombing, and the suicide of Robin Williams.
A relatively new word in English, surreal dates only to the 1930s. It comes from the name of the artistic movement known as surrealism, whose effect was often created "by means of unnatural or irrational juxtapositions and combinations."