Neologisms on parade


Portrait of Dr. Samuel Johnson, author and lexicographer, by Sir Joshua Reynolds, c. 1772. Collection Tate Gallery, London. At least, that’s what I think, and no amount of data can change my opinion.

This week, a digression on language:

Every year, Oxford Dictionaries chooses a word to “reflect the passing year in language.” It should come as little surprise to find that the word for 2016 is “post-truth,” an adjective defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” It’s gotten quite a workout this year, and deserves the award.

This got me thinking about “truthiness,” a word that has been around for a long time, but made it to the public eye in 2005 when comedian Stephen Colbert began using it on his show, The Colbert Report. It was the American Dialect Society’s Word of the Year for 2006, where they defined it as “the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.” Like me, recent political events brought truthiness back to the fore, and Colbert even noted the similarity between post-truth and truthiness on his late-night show. (You can see that here.)

This is where I come in.

I  was browsing social media, and among the wailing and gnashing of teeth over the Presidential election I saw a post that contained the word “falsehood.” Hardly a surprise given the aforementioned election. However, my brain stumbled, and instead I misread the word as “falsehold.” For a moment, I didn’t know what to make of it, but something inside me felt that this was a word that needed to exist. But what does it mean? A stronghold, or foothold, built on lies? A castle in the sand kind of thing, impregnable and strong except for the lack of a stable foundation?

A couple of friends on Facebook supplied me with a definition: “A persistent, strongly-held belief that is contrary to fact(s).” Is this too close to truthiness? I don’t know. Perhaps another definition will arise, but in any case I think this word should be perpetuated.

I think we have seen, and will see, a lot of falseholds undergoing scrutiny and criticism in the next few years, and the desperate attempts by those who hold such beliefs to save their house of cards from crumbling. Or perhaps they won’t care to be shown, or even proven wrong. Having read the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture, and heard the falseholds from those who refuse to accept the committee’s findings, I know that truth wins out, but slowly, like water eroding rock. Rock looks permanent, but water always wins.


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