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Promise: Never Another Word on ‘Truthiness’

I cannot get truthiness off my mind—a problem Stephen Colbert fans seem to suffer from, too. My problem, however, is that, despite the fact I included it in our Top 10 Sniglets List this year, it really isn’t a sniglet; it is a regular English word.

As Benjamin Zimmer pointed out in October 2005, the word appears in the Oxford English Dictionary with a quote from 1824:

1824 J. J. GURNEY in Braithwaite Mem. (1854) I. 242 Everyone who knows her is aware of her truthiness.

What is even more compelling, however, is that even though it is not in current dictionaries, it is and always has been a potential word in a class with toothiness, filminess, mistiness. The fact that most words are potential rather than real is a topic I have already written on here.

Denominal (from nouns) adjectives in English have two meanings if they are true adjectives (i.e. have nouns and can appear in predicate position): “having N” or “like N”, where “N” refers to the noun they are derived from. So toothiness refers to the state of having prominent teeth while fliminess is the quality of being like film.

So truthy is a regular adjective derived from truth and truthiness is the perfectly regular noun derived from the adjective meaning “the quality of being like truth”.

So, Colbert didn’t invent anything; he simply surprised those who are not themselves inventive and knowledgeable of language. We have again shown how vulnerable we are to hype. Since I will now be the last one to write about this word, I’ve proven myself to be the most vulnerable. Sorry. Never again.

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