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factoid



Factoid is a recent coinage that may leave you wondering what is real and what is not. The -oid suffix normally imparts the meaning ?resembling, having the appearance of? to the words it attaches to. Thus the anthropoid apes are the apes that are most like humans (from Greek anthropos, ?human being"). In some words the -oid suffix has a slightly extended meaning?"having characteristics of, but not the same as.? Science fiction fans will recognize a humanoid as a being that has human characteristics but is not really human. Similarly, factoid originally referred to a piece of information that has the appearance of being reliable or accurate, as from being repeated so often that people assume it is true. The word still has this meaning in standard usage. Seventy-three percent of the Usage Panel accepts it in the sentence It would be easy to condemn the book as a concession to the television age, as a McLuhanish melange of pictures and factoids which give the illusion of learning without the substance.    1
  Factoid has since developed a second meaning, that of a brief, somewhat interesting fact, that might better have been called a factette. The panel has less enthusiasm for this usage, however, perhaps because they see it as confusing. Only 43 percent of the panel accepts it in Each issue of the magazine begins with a list of factoids, like how many pounds of hamburger were consumed in Texas last month. Many panelists prefer terms such as statistics, trivia, useless facts, and just plain facts in this sentence.    2