Just the Factoids

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The National Center for Public Policy Research has an eye-opening Harper's-style "index" of data related to the Medicare bill that tries a little too hard to be cute (it's identified in the headline as an "irreverant…parody") but is nonetheless worth a look.

In addition to its aren't-we-clever tone, the press release suffers from the annoyingly common misuse of the word factoid, which means something false misrepresented as a fact. By calling its data "factoids," NCPPR invites distrust from anyone who knows what a factoid is. Is that too small a group to worry about?

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  1. Apparently it can be either:

    Main Entry: fac?toid
    Pronunciation: ‘fak-“toid
    Function: noun
    Date: 1973
    1 : an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print
    2 : a brief and usually trivial news item
    (courtesy of Merriam Webster)

  2. Although I find it distasteful, common use trumps academic insistence. Ask the French. And “factette” looks silly.

    The information of disputed label strengthens my idea that at some point the young will be forced to seize the estates of the old to pay the medical bills. Whether that happens as a private estate-by-estate litigation, or as a broad national legacy tax, it must happen.

  3. Face reality — the majority of people view definition #2 as the primary meaning of “factoid”. Same thing happened with “fulsome” where the smart folk proved themselves behind-the-times.

  4. I have the opposite problem when people say “myriad of” instead of “myriad.” The newer (adjective) version is wired into my brain. Altough I still get angry when “beg the question” is misused.

  5. Don’t get me started on misusing “verbal” when you mean “oral”.

    I never thought of factoids as being necessarily false, just as being kind of a bullet point or spin.

  6. This medicine is to be taken verbally.

  7. I like oral sex MUCH more than verbal sex

  8. If the media “says” a word must be used a certain way, then it must be so.

  9. Mr. Sullum, I believe you’re wrong. “Factoid,” in its most popular sense, means a fact, but a very small one, generally a trivial one.

  10. (http://www.yourdictionary.com/ahd/f/f0007400.html)

    “The -oid suffix normally imparts the meaning “resembling, having the appearance of” to the words it attaches to. Thus the anthropoid apes are the apes that are most like humans (from Greek anthrpos, “human being”). In some words -oid has a slightly extended meaning”having characteristics of, but not the same as,” as in humanoid, a being that has human characteristics but is not really human. Similarly, factoid originally referred to a piece of information that appears to be reliable or accurate, as from being repeated so often that people assume it is true. The word still has this meaning in standard usage. Seventy-three percent of the Usage Panel accepts it in the sentence It would be easy to condemn the book as a concession to the television age, as a McLuhanish melange of pictures and factoids which give the illusion of learning without the substance.?Factoid has since developed a second meaning, that of a brief, somewhat interesting fact, that might better have been called a factette. The Panelists have less enthusiasm for this usage, however, perhaps because they believe it to be confusing. Only 43 percent of the panel accepts it in Each issue of the magazine begins with a list of factoids, like how many pounds of hamburger were consumed in Texas last month. Many Panelists prefer terms such as statistics, trivia, useless facts, and just plain facts in this sentence.”

  11. Factoid doesn’t mean fact. Period. Full stop. End of story.

    Verbiage doesn’t mean “text.”

    Both words are used to describe something that is, at best, trivial and likely suspect.

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    IP: 82.146.43.155
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    DATE: 02/28/2004 07:35:29
    There is no great genius without some touch of madness.

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