March 02, 2007

In the tradition of truthiness and faminess

... comes a word we have long needed here at Language Log Plaza: referenciness.

From Michael Quinion's World Wide Words site:


Paul Farrington and I both spotted this word in an article in the Guardian on Monday, about a British TV presenter who has agreed to stop using the title "Doctor" from a non-accredited college in the US, after a complaint to the Advertising Standards Authority.  (This link will get you the full story.)  The writer, Dr Ben Goldacre, used this word to suggest a supposed scholarly reference that wasn't a real one: "The scholarliness of her work is a thing to behold: she produces lengthy documents that have an air of 'referenciness' ... but when you follow the numbers, and check the references, it's shocking how often they aren't what she claimed them to be."  Mr Farrington and I both wondered if he has borrowed the ending from Stephen Colbert's "truthiness", which describes things that a person claims to know, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or actual facts.  Dr Goldacre confirms that this was his inspiration.

(Hat tip to Paul Farrington, who sent me the item in e-mail with the header "Anotheriness".)

I was, of course, immediately reminded of the winner of the first Gropius Becanus Prize (the "Becky"), awarded by the Language Log to people or organizations who have made outstanding contributions to linguistic misinformation: Louann Brizendine.  For an account of the achievements that made Brizendine the unanimous choice for the Becky, see Geoff Nunberg's "Fresh Air" piece on the prize.

Brizendine is a virtuoso of referenciness -- references that don't support the claims made in the text (or, in fact, run counter to these claims), references that aren't even relevant to them.  She displays truthiness backed up by referenciness, which together have garnered her a certain amount of faminess.

The new, and obviously spreading, suffix -iness (the Colbert Suffix) is actually a sequence of two suffixes, the -y of (disparaging) approximation (similar in import to the hedging -ish), forming adjectives from nouns, and the -ness forming abstract nouns from adjectives.  Truthiness is the quality of being truthy rather than true; faminess the quality of being fame-y rather than famous; and referenciness the quality of being reference-y rather than providing actual references.  No doubt there will be more.  I could certainly see a place for justiciness (though it is, I believe, not yet attested).

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Posted by Arnold Zwicky at March 2, 2007 03:31 PM