Writing for Business

Dec 11 2012   4:52PM GMT

Is that a factoid or a bit of trivia?

Ivy Wigmore Ivy Wigmore Profile: Ivy Wigmore

Which is correct?
Here’s a ___________: The NORAD Santa tracker was developed as a result of a wrong number call to NORAD’s commander-in-chief’s operations hotline.
a. bit of seasonal trivia
b. seasonal factoid

Answer: a.


The primary meaning of factoid is an invented fact — essentially, something that appears to be true but isn’t.  The secondary meaning, funnily enough, is a bit of trivia. Given that the two meanings are contradictory, the safest thing to do is avoid the word factoid altogether. Here’s more on factoids.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) is a bi-national United States and Canadian organization charged with the missions of aerospace warning and aerospace control for North America. So it’s pretty incongruous for them to track Santa for toddlers — and perhaps even more surprising that their hotline number was inadvertently published for Santa’s workshop. But it’s true …

Here’s more on the NORAD story from Carrie Farrell, Veteran Santa Tracker:

“It was more than half a century ago, on Christmas Eve in 1955, that a Sears Roebuck & Co. store in Colorado Springs advertised a special hotline number for kids to call Santa. What the company didn’t know at the time was that they had inadvertently misprinted the telephone number. Instead of Santa’s workshop, the phone number put kids through to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), the bi-national U.S.-Canadian military organization responsible for the aerospace defense of the U. S. and Canada. Worse, it wasn’t just any number at NORAD: it was the commander-in-chief’s operations hotline.”


I don’t know about you, but that whole chain of events seems to me like a real-life version of a holiday movie, one full of Christmas magic.


Follow me on Twitter @tao_of_grammar

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