The absence of facts in some public discourse is creating new words, reports Australian National Dictionary editor AMANDA LAUGESEN, BA (Hons) ’97, PhD ’01.
In late 2016, Oxford Dictionaries named post-truth their ‘international word of the year’.
It is one of several terms that has arisen in public debate over the last decade or so that engages with the idea that public debate is now more driven by emotion and opinion than rational facts. Truthiness and feelpinion are other words that allude to this tendency.
We have also seen the rise of the fact check and fact checker, now mentioned far more frequently and explicitly in the media, in an attempt to hold (especially) politicians to account for things they say, and to counter the worst of the claims made in a post-truth age.
Truthiness, ‘the quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true’, was coined by satirist Stephen Colbert in 2006 to criticise the George W. Bush administration.
In the last few years, the similar term post-truth has emerged and was especially prominent in social and online media during the Clinton-Trump campaign. It is defined by Oxford Dictionaries as an adjective: ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.
During the US presidential campaign, many assertions not backed up by facts or evidence circulated through (in particular) the ‘alt-right’ media and, from there, social media.
Truthiness and post-truth are more commonly used in American political contexts, although in 2014 Australian journalist Gay Alcorn noted in the Age that the world is increasingly ‘in the era of post-truth politics, when facts don’t matter, where evidence doesn’t matter’.
The term feelpinion (a blend of ‘feel’ and ‘opinion’, and meaning ‘an opinion informed by feeling rather than fact’) has gained some traction in the Australian media, taken up by a number of political commentators concerned over the way emotions and feelings drive political debate, rather than rational discussion based on evidence.
From the beginning of the 2010s the terms fact check and fact checker have been more actively used in the media. Websites have been devoted to fact-checking claims, especially those made by politicians, and news media have taken up the ‘fact check’ to similarly test such claims. In Australia the ABC has been the most high-profile media source checking the veracity of claims.
The words we use to describe political trends reveal much about the nature of politics. Truthiness, post-truth, feelpinion and fact check suggest a great deal about our current political culture.
The Australian National Dictionary can be accessed online at bit.ly/rep_AND