Geoff Nunberg on the evolution of the words “surreal” and “horrific”:
“Surreal” was a bit of arty jargon until it too became popular around 1970 or so. That initially had a lot to do with the counterculture — the word shows up a lot more frequently in Rolling Stone than on CBS News. But the particular surreality of disaster scenes had another source. In her last book, Regarding the Pain of Others, Susan Sontag noted how often the words “surreal” and “movie” were coupled in eyewitness accounts of the 9/11 attacks — the result, she said, after four decades of big-budget disaster films. Who needs “the irrational reality of a dream” when you have The Towering Inferno?