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Alternative facts


“Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?”
► Chico Marx (Usually attributed to Groucho Marx as, “Who are you going to believe, me or your lying eyes?” The Groucho-attributed version scans better, but he may not actually have said it.)

When President Trump’s Counselor Kellyanne Conway appeared on Meet the Press on January 22, 2017, she was asked about the president’s press secretary’s recent description of the size of the crowd at the recent inaugural.

Host Chuck Todd asked why he would “utter a provable falsehood” (which it was, as photographic evidence soon showed).

Conway responded that he was delivering “alternative facts.”

Todd: “Look, alternative facts aren’t facts. They’re falsehoods.”

One actual fact is that this conversation took place; it was watched live by many people, and video evidence of it exists. Another apparent fact is that Todd was correct. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines fact this way: “In contemporary use, fact is generally understood to refer to something with actual existence, or presented as having objective reality.”

Conway tried to walk back her statement, indicating that the press secretary was referring to additional facts which had not yet been included in the discussion. But “alternative facts” is a modified version of “fact.”

As in, a modified version of “truth.” (It might barely fit the Stephen Colbert coinage of “truthiness.”)

One of the top Twitter has tags, #AlternativeFacts, was swiftly born.
But as one Psychology Today article4 points out, the concept at least is not new: It derives from the same stream, and uses the same structuring, as the messaging of the totalitarian state in the George Orwell novel 1984 – “newspeak.” Newspeak, among its other features, is designed to avoid “negative” words; these ideas instead are conveyed by using modifiers of “positive” words. The word “bad” would be made over, for example, into “ungood.” Similarly, “falsehood” or “lie” is translated into “alternative fact” – not a negative in sight.

Just place a modifier in front of “fact” – which choice of modifier almost does not matter – and you get the same effect, both as a matter of language and in real world practice.

If you do need an actual (real) alternative, try fict.

Used (invented?) by Greg Jenner, a history consultant at the British Broadcasting Corporation, a fict “is a falsehood that is widely believed to be true.” This sounds like a commonplace word waiting to be unleashed.

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