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Dec 10 2012   5:58PM GMT

Facts vs. factoids



Posted by: Ivy Wigmore
Tags:
commonly misunderstood terms
word choice
word meanings

Which is correct?
A commonly stated ______: Apple’s corporate address is 1 Infinite Loop in Cupertino, Ca.
a. factoid
b. fact


Answer: b.

Explanation:
People often cite Apple’s corporate address because it’s funny — an infinite loop is a piece of coding that lacks a functional exit, and as a result, repeats indefinitely.

The first meaning of the word factoids is “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper.” Norman Mailer coined the term in his 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. The oid suffix means similar but not the same, like an android is similar to, but not the same as, a human. Here’s the Washington Times description of a factoid: something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact.

That said, factoid has been used so often to refer to true but trivial facts — little facts — that that’s now an accepted, but secondary, meaning.

Given that the secondary meaning contradicts the primary one, you might want to avoid using it. The danger is that people will think your interesting bit of trivia is untrue, or that, conversely, they’ll believe your made-up fact.

Wikipedia has an interesting entry on factoids.

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