Dr. Goodword’s Language Blog

Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year: ‘Truthiness’

Merriam-Webster’s marketing team just posted the M-W word of the year, Steven Colbert’s comic invention, truthiness. Even though the word appears 1.6 million times on the Web and, according to M-W spokespeople it was the 5-1 choice of those who chose to vote, I find the choice puzzling.

First of all I find the choice puzzling since, according to Merriam-Webster, truthiness is not a word. That is to say, it is not to be found in any Merriam-Webster dictionary. Now I have commented before (I don’t recall where) on M-W’s tendency to sweep the streets for words, often committing them to the permanency of their lexical databases before we know if they are going to stick. M-W is good for hyping the words they put into their dictionaries but you never hear about the ones they take out because they are no longer used.

Truthiness is what linguists call a ‘nonce’ word; a word created for a specific situation that is not expected to survive as the situation changes. The OED recently accepted politicide and politricks which strike me as better choices, epecially politicide which should mean “death of a city” but works as a blend of political and suicide, as well.

Anyway, the Web has unleashed a tsunami of creativity that has washed thousands of creative comical words onto our monitors. Most of them are jokes, not based on the few rules of word formation left in English. However, since those rules are few and far between, and do not generate anything so amusing as words like truthiness, politicide, and my favorite, boomerangst, we have to wonder whether word formation rules rule any longer.

Leave a Reply