The Oxford English Dictionary–that mammoth reference book that chronicles the history of every word in our language–has announced the word of the year for 2016: post-truth.
Most commenters are relating the term to the lack of truth in today’s politics, particularly with candidates that the commenter opposes. The implication is that they think being “post-truth” is a bad thing, that they would like objective truth to come back as a category for our time.
But “post-truth” is nothing more than what postmodernism has done to all objective truth, the notion that we can create what we want to be true by our subjective decisions, that we can create what is true for us. Thus, strictly speaking, transgenderism–the view that we can select our own gender identity apart from our objective bodies– is post-truth. Gay marriage, with its assumption that we can re-create sexual morality and social institutions at will, is post-truth. The notions that all religions are the same, that attempts at persuasion are nothing more than impositions of power, that my truth is just as valid as your truth, are post-truth. No wonder that politicians act in the same way. But those who don’t really believe in object truth might as well embrace the term.
“word of the year” season by anointing their pick on Tuesday: post-truth.Oxford Dictionaries kicked off
The word, selected by Oxford’s editors, does not need to be coined in the past year but it does have to capture the English-speaking public’s mood and preoccupations. And that makes this one an apt choice for countries like America and Britain, where people lived through divisive, populist upheavals that often seemed to prize passion above all else—including facts.
post-truth: relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.
The word dates back to at least 1992, but Oxford saw its usage explode by 2,000% this year, based on their ongoing monitoring of how people are using English. Oxford notes that the phrase post-truth politics has enjoyed particular popularity of late. “It’s not surprising that our choice reflects a year dominated by highly-charged political and social discourse,” said Casper Grathwohl, president of Oxford Dictionaries. “Fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment, post-truth as a concept has been finding its linguistic footing for some time.” And, he suggests, it may become a defining word of our time.
Photo by Dan (mrpolyonymous on Flickr) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons