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Word for the Wise February 09, 2007 Broadcast Topic: Factoid

One of the more enjoyable (or frustrating) things about the English language is puzzling out just which sense of a particular word might be the one intended. (来源:英语麦当劳 http://www.EnglishCN.com)

We're not talking about homographs like cleave, which are actually two distinct (and both very old) words which happen to share the same spelling but which have different histories and meaning. (The cleave that means "to adhere firmly and closely or loyally and unwaveringly" is unrelated to the cleave that means "split").

No, today we're talking sense development, and our word under glass is factoid.

The noun suffix -oid means both "something resembling a specified object or having a specified quality." And therein—in the distinction between resemblance and having—lies the rub in understanding the meaning of factoid. When factoid first appeared in print, it meant "an invented fact believed to be true because of its appearance in print." How do we know that? Because we read it, naturally; Norman Mailer defined it that way when he coined the term for his 1973 book Marilyn: A Biography.

The life and legend of Marilyn Monroe may have lent themselves to invented facts, but the word factoid itself underwent some creative changes over the following decades. These days, factoid is just as likely to be used in its sense relating to form, which means "a briefly stated and usually trivial fact."

 
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