Word Confusion: Fact versus Factoid

Posted June 4, 2013 by Kathy Davie in Author Resources, Editing, Self-Editing, Word Confusions, Writing

Ooopsies…I have to confess I thought this was “a small fact”. I suppose I could, ahem, explain it away by, um, thinking of it as a small-small fact. So tiny that it was insignificant. But that would be wrong.

Instead, “a factoid is a little like an urban legend, although it need not spread so quickly and widely” (LexManiac). Hmmm, I am wondering, now, just what influenced Mailer…

Word Confusions…

…started as my way of dealing with a professional frustration with properly spelled words that were out of context in manuscripts I was editing as well as books I was reviewing. It evolved into a sharing of information with y’all. I’m hoping you’ll share with us words that have been a bête noir for you from either end.

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Fact Factoid
Credit to: Leslie Ayres; Apple Dictionary.com

“U.S. Nutritional Fact Label” by Trounce is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


“‘Miracle Cure!’ Health Fraud Scams” is an FDA graphic by Michael J. Ermarth is in the public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Health fraud scams promote “miracle cures” with factoids.

Part of Grammar:
Noun
Plural for the noun: facts
Noun
Plural for the noun: factoids
A thing that is indisputably the case A misconception or misrepresentation that is reported and repeated so often that it becomes accepted as fact

  • Something fictitious or unsubstantiated that is presented as fact, devised especially to gain publicity and accepted because of constant repetition

An insignificant or trivial fact

Examples:
She lacks political experience—a fact that becomes clear when she appears in public.

As a matter of fact, she has no talent.

I’m sorry, Helen, but your son is an accessory after the fact.

Most parents hate having to tell their child the facts of life.

Aunt Henny isn’t, in fact, a relative but a very good friend of your mother’s.

It’s a fact of life that there are jerks in any group of people.

We embedded so many factoids in that ad campaign, we have people convinced that they’ll be healthier if they eat more candy.

Nope, factoids are not small facts.

Anytime you receive an email promoting a “fact”, check it on Snopes.com before passing a factoid on.

The belief that “our nails and hair continue to grow after death” is a factoid.
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Derivatives:
Adjective: factful Adjective: factoidal
History of the Word:
Late 15th century from the Latin factum, originally as an act or feat. Later it was interpreted as a bad deed, a crime and surviving in the phrase before (or after) the fact.

Late 16th century is the earliest use of current usage, i.e., truth, reality

Coined in the 1970s by Norman Mailer.

C’mon, get it out of your system, bitch, whine, moan…which words are your pet peeves? Also, please note that I try to be as accurate as I can, but mistakes happen or I miss something. Email me if you find errors, so I can fix them…and we’ll all benefit!

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