Writing for Business

Dec 10 2012   5:58PM GMT

Facts vs. factoids

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

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

Answer: b.

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.


Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

 Comment on this Post

There was an error processing your information. Please try again later.
Thanks. We'll let you know when a new response is added.
Send me notifications when other members comment.

Forgot Password

No problem! Submit your e-mail address below. We'll send you an e-mail containing your password.

Your password has been sent to:

Share this item with your network: