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truthiness

noun [uncountable]

the quality of stating facts that you believe or want to be true, rather than stating facts that are known to be true

truthy

adjective

'A better word could not have been coined to describe the current debate over global warming … The … most bizarre example of truthiness is that we have a number of cheap, nonpolluting and renewable sources of energy we can exploit.'

The News-Press, Florida 18th January 2006

'The Bush Administration has shown that bold-faced lying works like a charm. As long as they speak with "truthy" conviction, they persuade people, despite the overwhelming evidence that they are leading us down the garden path.'

The Progressive 31st January 2006

On 6th January 2006, in its 16th annual vote on new or significant English words, the American Dialect Society declared the word truthiness as overall winner, giving it the esteemed title 'Word of the Year' for 2005.

people quickly cottoned on to the word's potential to fill a lexical gap for something fundamental about human nature

So just why, amongst a range of more obviously topical or popular candidates such as podcast, Sudoku or rendition, did a dark horse like truthiness claim the crown? The answer seems to be that truthiness, which refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts that you wish to be true, rather than concepts or facts that you know to be true, somehow embodies the zeitgeist of recent years, conveniently placing itself somewhere between the actual truth and the conviction of belief or opinion. Though the word initially prompted mixed reactions across the media as a rather unlikely choice for word of the year, possibly partly due to its more limited exposure relative to the other candidates, people quickly cottoned on to the word's potential to fill a lexical gap for something fundamental about human nature. Truthiness is a very useful concept in today's society because the truth is often inconvenient or simply boring. Truthiness has therefore been quickly associated with political spin and fabrication in general.

Soon after the announcement by the American Dialect Society, a controversy surrounding a best-selling book entitled A Million Little Pieces, by author and convicted criminal James Frey, acted as a catalyst in truthiness's more widespread recognition and potential survival. It was claimed that the book, dealing with Frey's drug addiction and criminal activities, was filled with fabrications and lies. In a widely publicized interview on the The Oprah Winfrey Show, Frey was confronted about how far his memoirs constituted truthiness rather than actual truth.

Background – truthiness

The word truthiness was first brought into the public eye in October 2005 by US comedian Stephen Colbert, who featured the term in his satirical news commentary programme The Colbert Report. Though Colbert exploited the non-intellectual, 'made-up' character of truthiness for humorous effect, the word was not his own invention and in fact dates back as far as the 1800s. The Oxford English Dictionary contains an entry for the adjective truthy, which is defined as 'characterized by the truth' and includes the derivation truthiness. Truthy and truthiness were originally used as straightforward variants of truthful and truthfulness. Though Colbert can't be credited with inventing the word, he is certainly responsible for re-introducing truthiness and truthy into 21st-century English, giving them a new, ironic meaning.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

This article was first published on 13th February 2006.

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