I was reading this article from the New York Times and I came across the word surrealistically. I know surreal means something resembling a dream. But I am not sure what is it that the author wants to express.

Here is the context:

In any breakup, there is this moment when a person who was a part of you just an instant ago becomes a surrealistically familiar stranger.

Can someone please enlighten me?

2 Answers 2


Surrealistically is an adverb of surreal which can mean unreal or fantastic. Thus this person seems both like a stranger and someone familiar, something pretty surreal. In the example, surrealistically modifies the word familiar.

  • hmm, I am sorry, but I am not able to understand how can something be 'strange' yet 'familiar' at the same time. Even if it/the person seems 'surreal' i.e. 'resembling a dream'
    – wadkar
    Oct 23, 2011 at 9:16
  • 3
    That's the whole point: it's surreal or strange or bizarre or unreal or incomprehensible that this person who once so close to you and you know so well appears to you like a stranger.
    – Hugo
    Oct 23, 2011 at 9:31
  • ohh, okay, now I get it. Thanks Hugo for explaining and also for editing my question.
    – wadkar
    Oct 23, 2011 at 9:33

Surreal and its derivatives refer to the Surrealist movement. (I don't know if there was an earlier usage of "surreal" and its derivatives in English.) Used colloquially, and compared to unreal, dreamy or other close synonyms, it implies that the absurdity is deliberate. In other words, meaningful meaninglessness.

  • Surrealism began in the 1920s, and oh, look: "[surreal]"(etymonline.com/index.php?term=surreal) is from 1936, a back formation from "surrealism" ("surrealism" coined in 1917, adopted for the surrealist movement in the 1920s). Sur = beyond, realism = realism.
    – Hugo
    Oct 24, 2011 at 14:36
  • Are you impliying something here?
    – niXar
    Oct 24, 2011 at 14:41
  • 1
    No, you said I don't know if there was an earlier usage of "surreal" and its derivatives in English. so I checked and was surprised that surreal came after surrealism, and both relatively recently. Ngram for extra confirmation.
    – Hugo
    Oct 24, 2011 at 14:45

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