Photo/IllutrationA passer-by watches TV news reporting Donald Trump's victory in the U.S. presidential election in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Nov. 9. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Some linguists claim that the Japanese expression "masaka," which translates colloquially as "no way" or "it can't be," derived from "masaki," which means "before one's very eyes."

It feels strange that the word, which denotes "reality," somehow morphed into an expression of utter disbelief.

The year 2016 was certainly not lacking in "improbable realities."

The biggest of them all was that Donald Trump was elected president of the United States in November. The president-elect's words and behavior are still as preposterous as ever. Just a few days ago, he tweeted that the United States "must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability." And America already has 7,000 nuclear warheads.

Britain shocked the world by voting to leave the European Union. But remorse followed the decision when it was learned, belatedly, that the claim by Brexit promoters--that eliminating the huge British contribution to the EU budget would enable the nation to spend more on health care--proved to be nothing but groundless propaganda.

Propaganda played no small part during the U.S. presidential election season, too.

Fake news, of the kind that any informed person would immediately see through, circulated in abundance on the Internet.

"Hillary Clinton sold weapons to the Islamic State," declared one "news" source.

When reported online, does "improbable" news transform itself into "believable fact"?

Oxford Dictionaries has selected "post-truth" as the 2016 international word of the year. The implication is that truth and facts are less influential in this era.

Anger exploded among people left behind by globalization. The elites of society have completely lost their credibility. These are some of the explanations given for the drastic changes that occurred in the United States and Britain.

If the factors that give rise to improbable phenomena are left unexamined, the world may well be in for more improbable outcomes.

The future is elusive in this era of ours. But I would like to hope for something delightfully improbable next year.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 31

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.