Printable Version
Pronunciation: fæk-chek Hear it!

Part of Speech: Verb

Meaning: Verify, confirm, investigate and certify.

Notes: We hear this word often today. It is a new word that has made its way into the Merriam-Webster and Oxford dictionaries. It comes with the two strictly English derivations, fact-checker and fact-checking, and conjugates like a regular verb, fact-checks, fact-checking, and fact-checked.

In Play: Remember the book and movie of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein All the President's Men (1976)? It showed how clever these two reporters were at fact-checking their sources. In the 1970s fact-checking (confirmation) was a basic assumption of journalism. In their pursuit of truth, reporters never took one person's word for a fact; they had to have a second person confirm it. Now that every word of those in power, no matter how stupid or ill-informed, gets in the news, fact-checking has become a cottage industry by itself.

Word History: Today's word is obviously a compound of fact + check. Fact comes from Latin factum "an occurrence, deed". This word literally means "thing done", for it is the neuter past participle of facere "to do", and also the source of French fait, Portuguese facto (Portugal) and fato (Brazil), and Italian fatto. Latin facere comes from the same PIE word as English do: dhe-/dho- "do, put". Check somehow originated in Persian shah mat "the king is dead; checkmate", also seen in Russian shakhmaty "chess". The word shah picked up a final K in French and the vowel changed from A to E. The meaning migrated from "stop the king" to "stop anything" ('check the spread of a disease'), then on to "stop to certify" ('check an identity card'), from there to simply "verify, certify".

Dr. Goodword,

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