Sunday, December 31, 2006

Truthiness and Wikiality Set the Tone for '07

By now, I'm sure you have noticed that "truthiness" was named word of the year by Merriam-Webster. This is sort of like winning an Oscar after previously landing a Golden Globe, since the word got the same honor in 2005 from the American Dialect Society.

Merriam- Webster selected its word of the year for the first time based on an online survey and reports that "truthiness" walked away with an overwhelming 5 to 1 majority vote.

truthiness (noun)

1 :
"truth that comes from the gut, not books" (Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central's "The Colbert Report," October 2005)
2 :
"the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true" (American Dialect Society, January 2006)

More insight from Wikipedia:

By using the term as part of his satirical routine, Colbert sought to criticize the tendency to rely upon "truthiness" and its use as an appeal to emotion and tool of rhetoric in contemporary socio-political discourse.

Pop culture fueled by Web dynamics means that a word uttered on a TV show in October can find its way into a New York Times headline just a few months later. In the January 30, 2006 edition, David Carr's article, "How Oprahness Trumped Truthiness," detailed Oprah's excoriation of James Frey for employing truthiness when writing his book, "A Million Little Pieces," while presenting it as a work of nonfiction:

Her show was a tutorial in how to take responsibility and deflect it to others at the same time; by the end, the truth and Ms. Winfrey were aggrieved in equal measure.

Meanwhile Mr. Colbert was back in the word-coining business by July of this year, introducing "wikiality," a mashup of Wikipedia and reality. (The following explanation of wikiality is from Wikipedia, which feels compelled to report the facts even when being skewered.)

Colbert defined wikiality as "truth by consensus" (rather than fact), modeled after the approval-by-consensus format of Wikipedia. He ironically praised Wikipedia for following his philosophy of truthiness, in which intuition and consensus is a better reflection of reality than fact.

(Regrettably, this triggered a rash of vandalism on the elephant page of Wikipedia, which responsible folks had to monitor and clean up.)

It also spawned www.wikiality.com, a spoof of Wikipedia. Wikiality's tagline is "The Truthiness Encyclopedia."

Can wikiality's moment in the sun, with a word-of-the-year award of its own, be far away?

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