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Truthiness is the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.[1][2] Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions.[3][4]

The concept of truthiness has emerged as a major subject of discussion surrounding U.S. politics during the late 20th and early 21st centuries because of the perception among some observers of a rise in propaganda and a growing hostility toward factual reporting and fact-based discussion.[3]

American television comedian Stephen Colbert coined the term truthiness in this meaning[5] as the subject of a segment called "The Wørd" during the pilot episode of his political satire program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005. By using this as part of his routine, Colbert satirized the misuse of appeal to emotion and "gut feeling" as a rhetorical device in contemporaneous socio-political discourse.[6] He particularly applied it to U.S. President George W. Bush's nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court and the decision to invade Iraq in 2003.[7] Colbert later ascribed truthiness to other institutions and organizations, including Wikipedia.[8] Colbert has sometimes used a Dog Latin version of the term, "Veritasiness".[9] For example, in Colbert's "Operation Iraqi Stephen: Going Commando" the word "Veritasiness" can be seen on the banner above the eagle on the operation's seal.

Truthiness was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.[10][11] Linguist and OED consultant Benjamin Zimmer[5][12] pointed out that the word truthiness[13] already had a history in literature and appears in the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), as a derivation of truthy, and The Century Dictionary, both of which indicate it as rare or dialectal, and to be defined more straightforwardly as "truthfulness, faithfulness".[5] Responding to claims by Michael Adams that the word already existed with a different meaning, Colbert, presumably exploiting his definition of the word, said, "Truthiness is a word I pulled right out of my keister".[14]

Use by Stephen Colbert[edit]

Stephen Colbert, portraying his character Dr. Stephen T. Colbert, chose the word truthiness just moments before taping the premiere episode of The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005, after deciding the originally scripted word – "truth" – was not absolutely ridiculous enough: "We're not talking about truth, we're talking about something that seems like truth – the truth we want to exist", he explained.[15][16] He introduced his definition in the first segment of the episode, saying: "Now I'm sure some of the 'word police', the 'wordinistas' over at Webster's are gonna say, 'Hey, that's not a word'. Well, anybody who knows me knows I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true. Or what did or didn't happen."[7]

When asked in an out-of-character interview with The Onion's A.V. Club for his views on "the 'truthiness' imbroglio that's tearing our country apart", Colbert elaborated on the critique he intended to convey with the word:[6]

Truthiness is tearing apart our country, and I don't mean the argument over who came up with the word ...

It used to be, everyone was entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts. But that's not the case anymore. Facts matter not at all. Perception is everything. It's certainty. People love the President [George W. Bush] because he's certain of his choices as a leader, even if the facts that back him up don't seem to exist. It's the fact that he's certain that is very appealing to a certain section of the country. I really feel a dichotomy in the American populace. What is important? What you want to be true, or what is true? ...

Truthiness is 'What I say is right, and [nothing] anyone else says could possibly be true.' It's not only that I feel it to be true, but that I feel it to be true. There's not only an emotional quality, but there's a selfish quality.

During an interview on December 8, 2006, with Charlie Rose,[17] Colbert stated:

I was thinking of the idea of passion and emotion and certainty over information. And what you feel in your gut, as I said in the first Wørd we did, which was sort of a thesis statement of the whole show – however long it lasts – is that sentence, that one word, that's more important to, I think, the public at large, and not just the people who provide it in prime-time cable, than information.

At the 2006 White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, Colbert, the featured guest, described President Bush's thought processes using the definition of truthiness. Editor and Publisher used "truthiness" to describe Colbert's criticism of Bush, in an article published the same day titled "Colbert Lampoons Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner – President Not Amused?" E&P reported that the "blistering comedy 'tribute' to President Bush ... left George and Laura Bush unsmiling at its close" and that many people at the dinner "looked a little uncomfortable at times, perhaps feeling the material was a little too biting – or too much speaking 'truthiness' to power".[18] E&P reported a few days later that its coverage of Colbert at the dinner drew "possibly its highest one-day traffic total ever", and published a letter to the editor asserting that "Colbert brought truth wrapped in truthiness".[19] On the same weekend, The Washington Post and others also reported on the event.[20][21][22] Six months later, in a column titled "Throw The Truthiness Bums Out", The New York Times columnist Frank Rich called Colbert's after-dinner speech a "cultural primary" and christened it the "defining moment" of the United States' 2006 midterm elections.[23][24]

Colbert refreshed "truthiness" in an episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert on July 18, 2016, using the neologism "Trumpiness" regarding statements made by Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign.[25] According to Colbert, while truthiness refers to statements that feel true but are actually false, "Trumpiness" does not even have to feel true, much less be true. As evidence that Trump's remarks exhibit this quality, he cited a Washington Post column stating that many Trump supporters did not believe his "wildest promises" but supported him anyway.[26][27][28]

Coverage by news media[edit]

After Colbert's introduction of truthiness, it quickly became widely used and recognized. Six days after, CNN's Reliable Sources featured a discussion of The Colbert Report by host Howard Kurtz, who played a clip of Colbert's definition.[29] On the same day, ABC's Nightline also reported on truthiness, prompting Colbert to respond by saying: "You know what was missing from that piece? Me. Stephen Colbert. But I'm not surprised. Nightline's on opposite me ..."[30]

Within a few months of its introduction by Colbert, truthiness was discussed in The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekly, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Chicago Tribune, Newsweek, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, the Associated Press, Editor & Publisher, Salon, The Huffington Post, Chicago Reader, CNET, and on ABC's Nightline, CBS's 60 Minutes, and The Oprah Winfrey Show.

The February 13, 2006 issue of Newsweek featured an article on The Colbert Report titled "The Truthiness Teller", recounting the career of the word truthiness since its popularization by Colbert.[13]

The New York Times coverage and usage[edit]

In its issue of October 25, 2005, eight days after the premiere episode of the Report, The New York Times ran its third article on The Colbert Report, "Bringing Out the Absurdity of the News".[31] The article specifically discussed the segment on "truthiness", although the Times misreported the word as "trustiness". In its November 1, 2005 issue, the Times ran a correction. On the next episode of the Report, Colbert took the Times to task for the error, pointing out, ironically, that "trustiness" is "not even a word".[32]

The New York Times again discussed "truthiness" in its issue of December 25, 2005, this time as one of nine words that had captured the year's zeitgeist, in an article titled "2005: In a Word; Truthiness" by Jacques Steinberg. In crediting truthiness, Steinberg said, "the pundit who probably drew the most attention in 2005 was only playing one on TV: Stephen Colbert".[33]

In the January 22, 2006 issue, columnist Frank Rich used the term seven times, with credit to Colbert, in a column titled "Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito",[34] to discuss Republican portrayals of several issues (including the Samuel Alito nomination, the Bush administration's response to Hurricane Katrina, and Jack Murtha's Vietnam War record). Rich emphasized the extent to which the word had quickly become a cultural fixture, writing, "The mock Comedy Central pundit Stephen Colbert's slinging of the word 'truthiness' caught on instantaneously last year precisely because we live in the age of truthiness." Editor & Publisher reported on Rich's use of "truthiness" in his column, saying he "tackled the growing trend to 'truthiness,' as opposed to truth, in the U.S."[35]

The New York Times published two letters on the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner, where Stephen Colbert was the featured guest, in its May 3, 2006 edition, under the headline "Truthiness and Power".[36]

Frank Rich referenced truthiness again in The New York Times in 2008, describing the strategy of John McCain's presidential campaign as being "to envelop the entire presidential race in a thick fog of truthiness",[37] Rich explained that the campaign was based on truthiness because "McCain, Sarah Palin and their surrogates keep repeating the same lies over and over not just to smear their opponents and not just to mask their own record. Their larger aim is to construct a bogus alternative reality so relentless it can overwhelm any haphazard journalistic stabs at puncturing it."[37] Rich also noted, "You know the press is impotent at unmasking this truthiness when the hardest-hitting interrogation McCain has yet faced on television came on 'The View'. Barbara Walters and Joy Behar called him on several falsehoods, including his endlessly repeated fantasy that Palin opposed earmarks for Alaska. Behar used the word 'lies' to his face."[37]


A church sign stating, "Truthiness and Consequences", taken March 10, 2007, in Cape Coral, Florida

Usage of "truthiness" continued to proliferate in media, politics, and public consciousness. On January 5, 2006, etymology professor Anatoly Liberman began an hour-long program on public radio by discussing truthiness and predicting it would be included in dictionaries in the next year or two.[38] His prediction seemed to be on track when, the next day, the American Dialect Society announced that "truthiness" was its 2005 Word of the Year, and the website of the Macmillan English Dictionary featured truthiness as its Word of the Week a few weeks later.[39] Truthiness was also selected by The New York Times as one of nine words that captured the spirit of 2005. Global Language Monitor,[40] which tracks trends in languages, named truthiness the top television buzzword of 2006, and another term Colbert coined with reference to truthiness, wikiality, as another of the top ten television buzzwords of 2006, the first time two words from the same show have made the list. [41] [42]

The word was listed in the annual "Banished Word List" released by a committee at Lake Superior State University in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, in 2007. The list included "truthiness" among other overused terms, such as "awesome" celebrity couple portmanteaus such as "Brangelina", and "pwn".[43] In response, on January 8, 2007, Colbert said Lake Superior State University was an "attention-seeking second-tier state university".[44][non-primary source needed] The 2008 List of Banished Words restored "truthiness" to formal usage, in response to the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike.[45]

American Dialect Society's Word of the Year[edit]

On January 6, 2006, the American Dialect Society announced that "truthiness" was selected as its 2005 Word of the Year. The Society described its rationale as follows:

In its 16th annual words of the year vote, the American Dialect Society voted truthiness as the word of the year. First heard on The Colbert Report, a satirical mock news show on the Comedy Central television channel, truthiness refers to the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true. As Stephen Colbert put it, "I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart."[10]

Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year[edit]

On December 10, 2006, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary announced that "truthiness" was selected as its 2006 Word of the Year on Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year, based on a reader poll, by a 5–1 margin over the second-place word google.[11] "We're at a point where what constitutes truth is a question on a lot of people's minds, and truth has become up for grabs", said Merriam-Webster president John Morse. "'Truthiness' is a playful way for us to think about a very important issue."[46] However, despite winning Word of the Year, the word does not appear in the 2006 edition of the Merriam-Webster English Dictionary. In response to this omission, during "The Wørd" segment on December 12, 2006, Colbert issued a new page 1344 for the tenth edition of the Merriam Webster dictionary that featured "truthiness". To make room for the definition of "truthiness", including a portrait of Colbert, the definition for the word "try" was removed with Colbert stating "Sorry, try. Maybe you should have tried harder." He also sarcastically told viewers to "not" download the new page and "not" glue it in the new dictionary in libraries and schools.[47][non-primary source needed]

The New York Times crossword puzzle[edit]

In the June 14, 2008 edition of The New York Times, the word was featured as 1-across in the crossword puzzle.[48] Colbert mentioned this during the last segment on the June 18 episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and declared himself the "King of the Crossword".[49][non-primary source needed]

BBC "portrait of the decade"[edit]

In December 2009, the BBC online magazine asked its readers to nominate suggestions of things to be included on a poster which would represent important events in the 2000s (decade), divided into five different categories: "People", "Words", "News", "Objects" and "Culture". Suggestions were sent in and a panel of five independent experts shortened each category to what they saw as the 20 most important. The selection in the "Words" category included "Truthiness".[50]


There is a growing amount of research on how the truthiness of a claim is inflated by the accompanying nonprobative information. In particular, in 2012, a study examining truthiness was published by a group of students from three universities in the paper "Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness".[51] The experiments showed that people are more likely to believe a claim is true regardless of evidence when a decorative photograph or irrelevant verbosity appears alongside the claim. [52][53]

Also in 2012, Harvard University's Berkman Center hosted a two-day symposium at Harvard and MIT, "Truthiness in Digital Media", exploring "concerns about misinformation and disinformation" in new media.[54][55]

The Truthiness Collaborative is a project at USC's Annenberg School "to advance research and engagement around the misinformation, disinformation, propaganda and other challenges to discourse fueled by our evolving media and technology ecosystem".[56][57]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Meyer, Dick (December 12, 2006). "The Truth of Truthiness". CBS News. Archived from the original on November 16, 2013. Retrieved December 14, 2006.
  2. ^ "Truthiness". Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House. Retrieved May 22, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Hayes-Roth, Rick (2015). Truthiness Fever. BookLocker.com, Inc. p. 5. ISBN 978-1614342205.
  4. ^ Hughes, Brian (2016). Rethinking Psychology: Good Science, Bad Science, Pseudoscience. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 35. ISBN 978-1-137-30397-4.
  5. ^ a b c Zimmer, Benjamin. "Language Log: Truthiness or Trustiness?". Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  6. ^ a b Rabin, Nathan (January 25, 2006). "Interview: Stephen Colbert". A.V. Club. Retrieved February 17, 2014.
  7. ^ a b "The Colbert Report: Videos: The Word (Truthiness)". October 17, 2005. Archived from the original on August 20, 2015. Retrieved November 7, 2018.
  8. ^ "The Word – Wikiality – The Colbert Report (Video Clip)". Comedy Central. July 31, 2006. Archived from the original on September 11, 2015. Retrieved May 14, 2020.
  9. ^ Smith, Christy Hardin (June 5, 2006). "A Stop on the Veritasiness Tour 2006". Firedoglake. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011. Retrieved September 3, 2010.
  10. ^ a b "Truthiness Voted 2005 Word of the Year by American Dialect Society" (PDF). Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  11. ^ a b "Merriam-Webster's Words of the Year 2006". Merriam-Webster. Archived from the original on January 21, 2015. Retrieved December 8, 2006.
  12. ^ "Benjamin Zimmer homepage". Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  13. ^ a b Peyser, Marc (February 13, 2006). "The Truthiness Teller". Newsweek. ISSN 0028-9604. Archived from the original on April 25, 2006. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  14. ^ Kiser, Emily (January 10, 2006). "Colbert puts professor 'on notice': Michael Adams, featured in a recent Associated Press article, incurs the wrath of Comedy Central 'pundit'". Technician. Retrieved February 5, 2017.
  15. ^ Sternbergh, Adam (October 16, 2006). "Stephen Colbert Has America by the Ballots". New York Magazine. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 27, 2007.
  16. ^ "Colbert Report Writers – The Truthiness Behind The Lines, Truthiness and Pun Journals". The Paley Center, YouTube channel. November 7, 2009. Archived from the original on December 21, 2021. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  17. ^ Charlie Rose (December 8, 2006), "A conversation with comedian Stephen Colbert" Archived September 15, 2008, at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved on August 14, 2008.
  18. ^ E&P Staff (April 29, 2006). "Colbert Lampoons Bush at White House Correspondents Dinner – President Not Amused?". Editor and Publisher. Archived from the original on May 31, 2006. Retrieved May 7, 2006.
  19. ^ E&P Staff (May 2, 2006). "Tuesday's Letters: Colbert Offensive, Colbert Mediocre, Colbert a Hero, Colbert Vicious, Colbert Brave". Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  20. ^ "Dept. of Truthiness: The Colbert Rapport". The Washington Post. March 30, 2006. ISSN 0740-5421. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  21. ^ Scherer, Michael (May 1, 2006). "The truthiness hurts". Salon. Archived from the original on June 15, 2006. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  22. ^ "The Colbert Report: Morley Safer Profiles Comedy Central's "Fake" Newsman". CBS News. March 30, 2006. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  23. ^ Rich, Frank (November 5, 2006). "Throw the Truthiness Bums Out". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 22, 2006.
  24. ^ Froomkin, Dan (November 7, 2006). "Bubble Trouble". The Washington Post. ISSN 0740-5421. Retrieved November 22, 2006.
  25. ^ McClennen, Sophia (July 22, 2016). "Colbert goes After Trumpiness: His live RNC coverage revives the comedy of "The Colbert Report"". Salon. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  26. ^ "Stephen Colbert resurrects his Colbert Report 'The Word' segment to define 'Trumpiness'". The Week. July 19, 2016. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  27. ^ Golshan, Tara (July 19, 2016). "Watch: Stephen Colbert brings back "The Word" to deconstruct the Trump supporter's psyche". Vox. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  28. ^ Bradley, Laura (July 19, 2016). "Stephen Colbert Brought Back "Stephen Colbert" (and Jon Stewart) During His R.N.C. Bonanza". Vanity Fair. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  29. ^ It was also used September 23, 2008 by CNN's American Morning by John Roberts. Howard Kurtz (transcript) (October 23, 2005). "CNN Reliable Sources". CNN. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  30. ^ "[D1RT]: stephen colbert on ..." Archived from the original on December 24, 2008. Retrieved September 19, 2008.
  31. ^ Stanley, Allesandra (October 25, 2005). "Bringing Out the Absurdity of the News". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  32. ^ Many dictionaries (e.g. American Heritage Archived October 10, 2006, at the Wayback Machine , Merriam-Webster, New Oxford Dictionary of English, etc.) offer definitions for trustiness.
  33. ^ Steinberg, Jacques (December 25, 2005). "2005: In a Word: Truthiness". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  34. ^ Rich, Frank (January 22, 2006). "Truthiness 101: From Frey to Alito". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved December 26, 2008.
  35. ^ Strupp, Joe (January 22, 2006). "'NY Times' Frank Rich Taking Book Leave". Retrieved January 23, 2006.
  36. ^ Howard, Gloria D.; Phillian, William M. (May 3, 2006). "Truthiness and Power". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  37. ^ a b c Rich, Frank (September 21, 2008). "Truthiness Stages a Comeback". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved September 21, 2008.
  38. ^ "Where Words Come From". January 5, 2006. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  39. ^ "Word of the Week Archive". Archived from the original on March 23, 2006. Retrieved June 4, 2006.
  40. ^ "Global Language Monitor". www.languagemonitor.com.
  41. ^ ""Truthiness", "Wikiality" named TV words of year". Reuters. August 28, 2006. Archived from the original on September 28, 2011. Retrieved November 25, 2008.
  42. ^ "'Truthiness' and 'Wikiality' Named Top Television Buzzwords of 2006 Followed by 'Katrina', 'Katie,' and 'Dr. McDreamy'". Global Language Monitor. August 27, 2006. Archived from the original on October 16, 2011. Retrieved September 29, 2011.
  43. ^ "Lake Superior State University 2007 List of Banished Words". Archived from the original on September 19, 2010. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  44. ^ "Colbert Report Episode 3001 (1/8/2006) overview". Archived from the original on October 19, 2007. Retrieved October 17, 2007.
  45. ^ "Lake Superior State University 2008 List of Banished Words". Archived from the original on October 17, 2013. Retrieved October 25, 2010.
  46. ^ Gorlick, Adam (December 8, 2006). "Colbert's 'truthiness' pronounced Word of the Year". AP/Houston Chronicle.
  47. ^ Colbert, Stephen (December 12, 2006). "Who's Honoring Me Now? – Merriam-Webster's Word of the Year". Colbert Nation. Retrieved March 6, 2014.
  48. ^ Parker, Rex (June 14, 2008). "Saturday, Jun . 14, 2008". Rex Parker does the NYT crossword puzzle (personal blog). Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  49. ^ "Daily/Colbert – Crossword Puzzle" (video). Comedy Central. June 18, 2008. Retrieved December 20, 2008.
  50. ^ "A portrait of the decade". BBC. December 14, 2009. Retrieved December 17, 2009.
  51. ^ Nonprobative photographs (or words) inflate truthiness 2012, doi:10.3758/s13423-012-0292-0
  52. ^ Satherley, Dan (August 14, 2012). "Pictures aid 'truthiness', study reveals". 3 News. Archived from the original on February 12, 2013. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  53. ^ "Scientists discover the truth behind Colbert's "truthiness"". Springer Science+Business Media. August 8, 2012. Retrieved August 14, 2012.
  54. ^ "Truthiness in Digital Media". Blogs.harvard.edu. Retrieved August 10, 2020.
  55. ^ Himler, Peter (March 7, 2012). "Truthiness in Digital Media". Forbes.com. Archived from the original on March 8, 2012. Retrieved August 10, 2020.
  56. ^ "Truthiness Collaborative". USC Annenberg Innovation Lab. Retrieved August 10, 2020.
  57. ^ Legg, Heidi; Kerwin, Joe (November 1, 2018). "The Fight Against Disinformation in the U.S.: A Landscape Analysis". Harvard Kennedy School, Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy. Retrieved August 10, 2020.

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