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The Perils of Contronymity
Monday, July 2, 2007   10:47 PM

The air that gets mixed into ice cream is called overrun. The plural of curriculum is curricula, not curriculae, my fondness for that sort of pluralization notwithstanding. The origin of copacetic has been lost to history.

Which is to say: everyone I have ever met uses factoid to mean "a brief, somewhat interesting fact." I was quite surprised to read that this is the newer, less-preferred usage. American Heritage notes that:

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.

However, I'm so used to the newer meaning that I initially read even this example that way.

I can see why Read Roger is so upset by the contradictory definitions here: at least with unpacked, another contronym, you can nearly always figure out the meaning from the context.

That said, I'm fairly certain that my definition will prevail; it's the intervening confusion that's the problem.

p.s. A comment at Read Roger reminded me that I probably picked up my preferred meaning of factoid from the Simpsons episode "Homer Defined," wherein Homer's name becomes a contronym of sorts. In the first scene, Lisa refers to a USA Today-style newspaper as "a flimsy hodgepodge of pie graphs, factoids, and Larry King."

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