January 06, 2006

The wordanistas have spoken

Back in October, when Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert kicked off his faux-news show The Colbert Report, he promoted a new word that nailed the malleability of "truth" in today's mediascape. His word was truthiness, and he used his blustery O'Reillyesque persona to launch a preemptive strike against naysaying "wordanistas":

Now I'm sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster's, are gonna say, "Hey, that's not a word." Well, anybody who knows me knows that I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true, or what did or didn't happen. Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that's my right. I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart.
[Video here, here, and here.]

Well, the wordanistas have heeded his call. Earlier today, the American Dialect Society selected truthiness as its 2005 Word of the Year.

Truthiness edged out Katrina (and Katrina-related words) in the annual voting, with other nominees such as podcast, intelligent design, and refugee trailing behind. (The full results, with the voting in other categories, is available in PDF form here.) For the ADS voters, Colbert's creation just seemed to capture a certain ineffable zeitgeistiness.

Fittingly, truthiness has circulated in the media with only a tenuous connection to those pesky "facts." As we noted here, the New York Times rendered the word as trustiness, apparently due to an errant spellchecker. (The redfaced Times not only issued a correction but also elevated truthiness to a place on its list of year-defining buzzwords.) Now that the ADS has coronated it as Word of the Year, the media coverage has once again come up short. The Associated Press article, published around the nation and indeed the world (in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the UK's Guardian, Australia's Age, etc.), doesn't even mention the genesis of the word on Colbert's show.

Ah well. Perhaps this will serve as more fodder for Colbert's put-upon persona of perpetual outrage.

[Update, 1/6/06: A later and longer version of the Associated Press wire story gives the background on Colbert (though it implies that his show is still part of "The Daily Show with John Stewart") and adds some other new details. But I suspect the incomplete article that first hit the wires will be the one picked up by most papers.]

[Update, 1/10/06: On his Jan. 9 show, Colbert responded with all the phony indignation he could muster. Details here.]

[Update 1/13/06: The truthiness battle continues.]

Posted by Benjamin Zimmer at January 6, 2006 11:43 PM