Tuesday, April 19, 2005

usage pitfalls

The use of the word factoid on a blog post made me look up M-W. Blame it on a lurking suspicion that the usage was tricky. And the dictionary entry (reproduced below) sheds a spotlight on my darkest fears:

1 : an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print
2 : a brief and usually trivial news item

Read those items carefully, and the most evident conclusion is that the intuitive meaning of factoid is counter-intuitive. Something described in a factoid ain't no (rule: eschew double negatives) little fact, it's a member of genus apocrypha; a potential urban legend. Definition (2) might give you some respite and leeway, but definition (1) is what you should use as a safeguard. Punning playwrights may find fodder here.

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