Monday, July 5, 2010

185 / Factoids

Read this in the original at

I won't say it was a drunken debate, but it did take place in a bar. So, what does the word "factoid" really mean? I thought it meant "interesting fact" (of, admittedly, small significance).

Quite the opposite, in the standard usage. A "factoid" is a "fact" that isn't true! Click the title link to read about it on Wikipedia. And here's what the American Heritage Dictionary says:

Usage Note : The -oid suffix normally imparts the meaning "resembling, having the appearance of" to the words it attaches to. Thus the anthropoid apes are the apes that are most like humans (from Greek anthrōpos, "human being"). In some words -oid has a slightly extended meaning—"having characteristics of, but not the same as," as in humanoid, a being that has human characteristics but is not really human. Similarly, factoid originally referred to a piece of information that appears to be reliable or accurate, as from being repeated so often that people assume it is true. The word still has this meaning in standard usage. Seventy-three percent of the Usage Panel accepts it in the sentence It would be easy to condemn the book as a concession to the television age, as a McLuhanish melange of pictures and factoids which give the illusion of learning without the substance. · Factoid has since developed a second meaning, that of a brief, somewhat interesting fact, that might better have been called a factette. The Panelists have less enthusiasm for this usage, however, perhaps because they believe it to be confusing. Only 43 percent of the panel accepts it in Each issue of the magazine begins with a list of factoids, like how many pounds of hamburger were consumed in Texas last month. Many Panelists prefer terms such as statistics, trivia, useless facts, and just plain facts in this sentence.

1 comment:

  1. That's cool to know! Have you read Bill Bryson's "Made in America"? The English language is so fascinating and I guess it's all about usage! Forget the's the people who decide the real meanings of words. In France they try to "control" the language, and that's why it's become a beautiful language passé. English is so much more flexible.


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