- Mathias Klang
- This sign is more of a factoid, really
A quick search of the Reader
online archives reveals nine instances in which we used the word factoid
, but who can blame us? We didn’t know. Alexis Madrigal is here to clear things up.
He blogs at the Atlantic
that the common usage is incorrect. The suffix -oid isn’t diminutive, as he had thought; a reader wrote in to remind him that in this context it’s rather more derogatory, meaning “resembling, but not really a member of some category”—humanoid
, for instance, doesn’t mean “little human.” So factoid
means “not really a fact.”
Merriam-Webster knew this all along. Factoid is in the dictionary (factlet isn’t, by the way) defined as “an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print” (ha!), though the book concedes that it can also mean “a briefly stated and usu. trivial fact.” Fortunately there’s a fix, and it’s an even cuter word: factlet. But actually this begs another question—no, it raises the question; hate to be the one to tell you that you've been using "begs the question" wrong, too. What the hell does hemorrhoid mean?