Definitions

Truthiness

Truthiness

[troo-thee-nis]
Truthiness is a term first used in its current satirical sense by American television comedian Stephen Colbert in 2005, to describe things that a person claims to know intuitively or "from the gut" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. Colbert introduced this definition of the word during the pilot episode of his satirical television program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005, as the subject of a segment called "The Wørd". Truthiness was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.

The word truthiness has a history in literature and appears in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) (as a derivation of truthy) and The Century Dictionary, both of which indicate it as rare or dialectal, and to be defined more straightforwardly as "truthfulness, faithfulness". The prior existence of the word was brought to public attention by linguist and OED consultant Benjamin Zimmer.

By using the term as part of his routine, Colbert sought to satirize the use of appeal to emotion and the "gut feeling" as a rhetorical device in contemporary socio-political discourse. He particularly applied it to U.S. President George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and the decision to invade Iraq in 2003. Colbert later ascribed truthiness to other institutions and organizations, such as Wikipedia.

Adoption of the term by Colbert

Colbert came up with the word truthiness just moments before taping the premiere episode of The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005, after deciding that the originally scripted word – "truth" – was not absolutely ridiculous enough. "We're not talking about truth, we're talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist," he explained. He introduced his definition in the first segment of the episode, in the following monologue:

When asked in an out-of-character interview with The Onion's A.V. Club for his views on "the 'truthiness' imbroglio that's tearing our country apart", Colbert elaborated on the critique he intended to convey with the word:

During an interview on December 8, 2006 with Charlie Rose, Colbert stated:

Coverage by news media

After Colbert's introduction of the term "truthiness", it quickly became widely used and recognized. Six days after Colbert introduced the term, CNN's Reliable Sources featured a discussion of The Colbert Report by host Howard Kurtz, who played a clip of Colbert's definition of the word. On the same day, ABC's Nightline also reported on "truthiness", prompting Colbert to respond by saying: "You know what was missing from that piece? Me. Stephen Colbert. But I'm not surprised. Nightline's on opposite me…

Within a few months of its introduction by Colbert, "Truthiness" was discussed in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, CNN, MSNBC, the Associated Press, Editor & Publisher, Salon, The Huffington Post, Chicago Reader, CNET, and on ABC's Nightline, CBS's 60 Minutes, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The February 13, 2006 issue of Newsweek featured an article on The Colbert Report titled "The Truthiness Teller", recounting the career of the word truthiness since its popularization by Colbert.

The New York Times coverage and usage

In its October 25, 2005 issue, eight days after the premiere episode of the Report, The New York Times ran its third article on The Colbert Report, "Bringing Out the Absurdity of the News". The article specifically discussed the segment on "truthiness", although the Times misreported the word as "trustiness". In its November 1, 2005 issue, the Times ran a correction. On the next episode of the Report, Colbert took the Times to task for the error, pointing out, albeit incorrectly, that "trustiness" is "not even a word".

In its December 25, 2005 issue, the New York Times again discussed "truthiness", this time as one of nine words that had captured the year's zeitgeist, in an article titled "2005: In a Word; Truthiness" by Jacques Steinberg. In crediting truthiness, Steinberg said, "the pundit who probably drew the most attention in 2005 was only playing one on TV: Stephen Colbert".

In the January 22, 2006 issue, columnist Frank Rich used the term seven times, with credit to Colbert, in a column titled "Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito", to discuss Republican portrayals of several issues (including the Samuel Alito nomination, the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, and Jack Murtha's Vietnam War record). Rich emphasized the extent to which the word had quickly become a cultural fixture, writing, "The mock Comedy Central pundit Stephen Colbert's slinging of the word 'truthiness' caught on instantaneously last year precisely because we live in the age of truthiness." Editor & Publisher reported on Rich's use of "truthiness" in his column, saying he "tackled the growing trend to 'truthiness,' as opposed to truth, in the U.S.

The New York Times published two letters on the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner, where Stephen Colbert was the featured guest, in its May 3, 2006 edition, under the headline "Truthiness and Power".

Frank Rich referenced truthiness again in The New York Times in 2008, describing the strategy of John McCain's presidential campaign as being "to envelop the entire presidential race in a thick fog of truthiness." Rich explained that the campaign was based on truthiness because "McCain, Sarah Palin and their surrogates keep repeating the same lies over and over not just to smear their opponents and not just to mask their own record. Their larger aim is to construct a bogus alternative reality so relentless it can overwhelm any haphazard journalistic stabs at puncturing it." Rich also noted, "You know the press is impotent at unmasking this truthiness when the hardest-hitting interrogation McCain has yet faced on television came on 'The View'. Barbara Walters and Joy Behar called him on several falsehoods, including his endlessly repeated fantasy that Palin opposed earmarks for Alaska. Behar used the word “lies” to his face."

Widespread recognition

Usage of "truthiness" continued to proliferate in media, politics, and public consciousness. On January 5, 2006, etymology professor Anatoly Liberman began an hour-long program on public radio by discussing truthiness and predicting that it would be included in dictionaries in the next year or two. His prediction seemed to be on track when, the next day, the American Dialect Society announced that "truthiness" was its 2005 Word of the Year, and the website of the Macmillan English Dictionary featured truthiness as its Word of the Week a few weeks later. Truthiness was also selected by The New York Times as one of nine words that captured the spirit of 2005. Global Language Monitor, which tracks trends in languages, named truthiness the top television buzzword of 2006, and another term Colbert coined with reference to truthiness, wikiality, as another of the top ten television buzzwords of 2006, the first time two words from the same show have made the list.

On January 1, 2007, Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan released its annual list of words it wants banned from the English language. "Truthiness" was among them, along with other words like "awesome" and celebrity couple nicknames like "Brangelina" and "TomKat". In response, on January 8, 2007 Colbert stated that Lake Superior State University was an "attention-seeking second-tier state school". The 2008 List of Banished Words restored truthiness to formal usage, in response to the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike.

American Dialect Society's Word of the Year

On January 6, 2006, the American Dialect Society announced that truthiness was selected as its 2005 Word of the Year. The Society described its rationale as follows:
In its 16th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted truthiness as the word of the year. First heard on The Colbert Report, a satirical mock news show on The Comedy Central Channel, truthiness refers to the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. As Stephen Colbert put it, 'I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart.'
Apparently after realizing that truthiness was found in the Oxford English Dictionary, the Society later changed the wording of this press release on their website, from "First heard on The Colbert Report…" to "Recently popularized by The Colbert Report…"

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year

On December 10, 2006 the Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced that truthiness was selected as its 2006 Word of the Year on Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year, based on a reader poll, by a 5–1 margin over the second-place word google. "We're at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people's minds, and truth has become up for grabs", said Merriam-Webster president John Morse. "'Truthiness' is a playful way for us to think about a very important issue. However, despite winning Word of the Year, the word does not appear in the 2006 edition of the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary. In response to this omission, during "The Wørd" segment on December 12, 2006 Colbert issued a new page 1344 for the tenth edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary that featured "truthiness". To make room for the definition of "truthiness," including a portrait of Colbert, the definition for the word "try" was removed with Colbert stating "Sorry, try. Maybe you should have tried harder." He also sarcastically told viewers to 'not' download the new page and 'not' glue it in the new dictionary in libraries and schools.

New York Times crossword puzzle

In the June 14, 2008 edition of The New York Times, the word was featured as 1-across in the crossword puzzle. Colbert mentioned this during the last segment on the June 18 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and declared himself the "King of the Crossword".

Use in political and social commentary

James Frey controversy

The Chicago Tribune published an editorial in its January 16, 2006 issue titled "The Truthiness Hurts", crediting the rise of truthiness as serendipitously providing an apt description of the Oprah Book Club controversy over James Frey's semi-fictional memoir A Million Little Pieces. Truthiness was also used to describe the controversy over the factual accuracy of Frey's book by USA Today in its January 15, 2006 issue, by several other publications including The New York Times, and by the television news program Nightline on its October 23 and January 26 editions.

Oprah Winfrey also discussed truthiness with Frank Rich on her show, in reference to the Frey controversy and the column "Truthiness 101" Rich had recently published in the New York Times. They also mentioned Colbert's role in popularizing "truthiness".

On January 27, MSNBC ran a commentary titled "Oprah strikes a blow for truthiness: Do facts really matter? Ask Winfrey, James Frey or Stephen Colbert", making the case that Winfrey's about-face on Frey's book was a "small (and belated) but bold nudge back out of the proud halls of truthiness", but also opportunistic and too little too late.

In the Canadian Parliament

In 2006, Liberal Party of Canada leadership contender Ken Dryden used truthiness as an extensive theme in a speech in the House of Commons. The speech dealt critically with the current government's Universal Child Care Plan. Dryden defined truthiness as "something that is spoken as if true that one wants others to believe is true, that said often enough with enough voices orchestrated in behind it, might even sound true, but is not true."

The transcript of all debates in the House is made available in both official languages; the translators into French chose to render "truthiness" as fausse vérité ("false truth").

Further use by Colbert

After introducing "truthiness", Colbert has repeatedly referred to "truthiness" and his original definition of it, both on and outside of The Colbert Report.

Alleged snubbing by the Associated Press, and Colbert's response

The Associated Press reported on the American Dialect Society's selection of truthiness as the Word of the Year, including the following comments by one of the voting linguists:
Michael Adams, a professor at North Carolina State University who specializes in lexicology, said "truthiness" means "truthy, not facty". "The national argument right now is, one, who's got the truth and, two, who's got the facts", he said. "Until we can manage to get the two of them back together again, we're not going to make much progress."
On each of the first four episodes of the Report after the selection of truthiness as Word of the Year, Colbert lamented that news reports neglected to acknowledge him as the source of the word. On the first of these episodes, he added Michael Adams to his "On Notice" board, and Associated Press reporter Heather Clark, the author of the article, to his "Dead to Me" board. On the third of these episodes, he ranked the AP at the top of the "Threat-Down", one of few entries ever to gain the number one spot in place of bears. On the following episode he called Adams and asked for an apology. Though Adams never apologized, Colbert "accepted" his "apology", but failed to take him "off notice".

Associated Press response to Colbert

On January 13, the first day after the four-day run of criticism of the AP on the Report, the AP ran a story about The Colbert Report being upset about being snubbed by the AP, in an article titled "Colbert: AP the biggest threat to America". As he has in the past, Colbert remained in character in an interview for the story, and used it to further the political satire of truthiness; excerpts of the story are:

"…When an AP story about the designation sent coast to coast failed to mention Colbert, he began a tongue-in-cheek crusade, not unlike the kind his muse Bill O'Reilly might lead in all seriousness."

"'It's a sin of omission…' Stephen Colbert told the AP on Thursday….'It's like Shakespeare still being alive and not asking him what Hamlet is about,' he said."

"The Oxford English Dictionary has a definition for 'truthy' dating back to the 1800s….'The fact that they looked it up in a book just shows that they don't get the idea of truthiness at all,' Stephen Colbert said Thursday. 'You don't look up truthiness in a book, you look it up in your gut.'"

"Though slight, the difference of Colbert's definition and the OED's is essential. It's not your typical truth, but, as The New York Times wrote, 'a summation of what [Colbert] sees as the guiding ethos of the loudest commentators on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.'"

"Colbert, who referred on his program to the AP omission as a 'journalistic travesty,' said Thursday that it was similar to the much-criticized weapons of mass destruction reporting leading up to the Iraq War. 'Except,' he said, 'people got hurt this time.'"

On January 14, Clark herself responded in an article titled "Exclusive 'News'—I'm dead to Stephen Colbert". She furthered the rise of "truthiness" in published English in conceding, "Truthiness be told, I never had seen The Colbert Report until my name graced its 'Dead to Me' board this week….But I will say that I watched Colbert's show for the first time…It was funny. And that's not just truthy. That's a fact."

Arianna Huffington

On January 31, 2006, Arianna Huffington used truthiness on the Huffington Post. Huffington later appeared as a guest on the March 1, 2006, episode of The Colbert Report. She challenged Colbert on his claim that he had invented the word truthiness. During the interview, Colbert declared, "I'm not a truthiness fanatic; I'm truthiness's father." Huffington corrected him, citing Wikipedia, that he had merely "popularized" the term. Regarding her source, Colbert responded: "Fuck Them!

President George W. Bush

At the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, Colbert, the featured guest, described President Bush's thought processes using the definition of truthiness. Editor and Publisher used truthiness to describe Colbert's criticism of Bush, in an article published the same day entitled "Colbert Lampoons Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner—President Not Amused?" E&P reported that the "blistering comedy 'tribute' to President Bush… left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close" and that many people at the dinner "looked a little uncomfortable at times, perhaps feeling the material was a little too biting — or too much speaking 'truthiness' to power". E&P reported a few days later that its coverage of Colbert at the dinner drew "possibly its highest one-day traffic total ever", and published a letter to the editor asserting that "Colbert brought truth wrapped in truthiness". On the same weekend, The Washington Post and others also referenced this. Writing six months later in a column entitled "Throw The Truthiness Bums Out", New York Times columnist Frank Rich called Colbert's after-dinner speech a "cultural primary" and christened it the "defining moment" of the United States' 2006 midterm elections.

See also

References

External links

Search another word or see Truthinesson Dictionary | Thesaurus |Spanish
Copyright © 2014 Dictionary.com, LLC. All rights reserved.
  • Please Login or Sign Up to use the Recent Searches feature
FAVORITES
RECENT

;