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Truthfulness or truthiness?

October 17, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

For Stephen Colbert, truthiness not truth best describes what is happening in American politics and I suspect in the reporting of American politics. Colbert coined the word in 2005 since, what he was “driving at wasn’t truth anyway, but a mere approximation of it — something truthish or truthy http://truthy.indiana.edu/, unburdened by the factual.” (from Ben Zimmer’s article Truthiness in the NY Times).  Even though Colbert no longer feels the need to use the word truthiness, it became the 2005 Word of the Year.

Zimmer interviewed Colbert about truthiness in a subscriber only article on Virtual Thesaurus. According to Colbert:

“It’s really about feelings rather than thought. That’s really what the debate is about — it’s like what feels right to you, as opposed to what you know is right.”

And it’s not even really about truth. I’m not asking people what truth is, because truth is too easily associated with fact. So I said, “Well, it’s not truth. It’s like truth. It’s truthish. It’s truthy.” But I needed a noun. So I said, “It’s truthiness.”

You know, “truthiness” sounds wrong, because truth should be absolute — even though we all have truths and mine isn’t the same as yours. “What is truth?” said Pilate. But even though we all have our own truths, they are absolute. By saying “truthiness,” you’re implying that what you’re saying is only an “ish” of the absolute.

What I liked it about it was, it names that what I’m saying is not accurate. It names that what I’m saying is not really true. But what’s really true is not important.

I think if you just look around you, I doubt that many people in American politics are acting on the facts. I think everybody on both sides is acting on the things that move them emotionally the most. And that is the most successful way to behave. By keeping fear alive, we are keeping truthiness alive at the same time. Action out of emotion is all that truthiness is about — making your decisions based upon how you feel. Right now, it seems like fear is the strongest emotion that motivates us.”

Back to Zimmer’s NY Times article, “Truthiness, Colbert pointed out, is in no need of restoring, since it continues to define those who appeal to raw feelings at the expense of facts. “I doubt that many people in American politics are acting on the facts,” he observed ruefully. “Everybody on both sides is acting on the things that move them emotionally the most.”

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  1. Andrew
    October 17, 2010 at 6:44 am

    Colbert. So awesome.

    Also, linking because I saw it today and it’s relevant.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/10/15/AR2010101505616.html?waporef=obinsite

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