Whether you get your news from television, social media, or the mouths of politicians, the line separating fact and fiction is sometimes hard to pin down. This feels especially accurate in 2016, a year when fake news stories rose to the top of Facebook’s trending feed and presidential candidates were fact-checked mid-debate. It’s fitting then that post-truth, defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief,” was recently named Word of the Year by Oxford English Dictionaries.
The word isn’t a new invention—according to Oxford, the concept has been around for the past decade or so. But this year the word skyrocketed to prominence in light of Britain’s break from the European Union and the presidential election in the U.S. The word is commonly seen coupled with the word politics in headlines like: “Why the post-truth political era might be around for a while” and “U.S. election campaign marks low in post-truth politics.”
Stephen Colbert touched on a similar concept when he coined the word truthiness in 2005. That word, which means “believing something is true from the gut, or inside; using life experiences of learnings to make something seem true,” earned the title of Merriam-Webster’s Word of the Year in 2006.
Post-truth was chosen from a shortlist of nine other terms considered for the distinction. As you might expect, the pool featured several politically themed entries, including alt-right (an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative viewpoints), woke (alert to injustice in society), and Brexiteer (a person who is in favor of the UK withdrawing from the European Union). A few of the contenders, like adulting, hygge, and coulrophobia (fear of clowns), fell on the lighter side.