In January the American Dialect Society selected its 2005 Word of the Year: “truthiness.”
The ADS, founded in 1889 to study the English language and its development, is made up of linguists, lexicographers, etymologists, historians, grammarians, academics, editors and writers.
The words or phrases are chosen as the ones that best capture the news of the year. The winning entries are words that suddenly became used often or were even made up during the year.
Unless you watch “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central you probably have not heard this word, since comedian Stephen Colbert made it up in a daily segment he calls “The Word.”
The ADS defines truthiness as “the quality of stating concepts or facts one wishes or believes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.”
As Colbert explained: “I don’t trust books. They’re all fact, no heart.”
Basically, truthiness is wishful thinking and tall tales disguised as fact.
Columnist Clarence Page recently wrote about A Million Little Pieces, a supposedly non-fiction book by James Frey that turns out to be quite fictitious at times.
Page started the column by admitting that at first he thought the choice of “truthiness” as the Word of the Year “sounded like a joke.”
He then added, “New revelations about James Frey’s partly made-up best-selling drug addiction memoir make ‘truthiness’ sound timely and downright prophetic.” Like Jayson Blair and Dan Rather, Frey is under fire for attempting to pass off fiction as truth.
Sadly, Missouri Baptists have also experienced similar “news” stories that are better examples of truthiness than truth.
A couple recent Pathway stories demonstrated the concept of truthiness quite well, as they claimed that Baptist General Convention of Missouri Executive Director Jim Hill’s company had attempted to buy Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
The stories are exactly that—stories.
The BGCM explained the truth in a recent response to the claims. The correction states, “Windermere Baptist Conference Center has never been ‘for sale.'”
It also pointed out that the Pathway writer did not even have a basic understanding of the facts, since they inaccurately confused Hill’s company with a different one. A little journalistic research could have easily prevented this confusion.
If this were an isolated case it might be a minor incident. However, as the BGCM statement explains, “Unfortunately, the Pathway continues to demonstrate either a high level of incompetence or dishonesty or both.”
Windermere lately has been a frequent target of the Pathway’s truthiness. For a more accurate understanding of the situation, check out Windermere’s recent press release. It outlines the attempts by the Missouri Baptist Convention to harm the life-changing ministries of Windermere.
The statement explains, “Many false comments have been written in a Missouri Baptist publication that are so off-the-wall and inaccurate that it is amazing they were ever printed.”
It is amazing, unless you understand how pervasive truthiness can be.
Other truthiness moments can be found in recent Pathway reports about logging at Windermere. The articles imply that the logging is part of the recent land sales.
In reality the trees being cut were ones that had been recommended by the Missouri Department of Conservation to remove in attempts of keeping the forest healthy. Windermere leaders are just being good stewards of the land God entrusted with them.
One of the stories also mentioned, “At least four relatively new houses have been constructed recently on a hill overlooking the backside of Windermere’s campus.” In the context of the story about land sales it implies that these houses are part of the deal.
Let me offer the truth—and not the truthiness—since I have actually stayed in one of those homes repeatedly. My parents live there, because it is staff housing. These five homes (not four) were begun before Windermere’s board became self-perpetuating and are actually part of the campus.
Unfortunately, I could go on and on. Truthiness has prevailed in many other Pathway stories over the last few years, from tall tales about the lawsuits and institutions to stories about myself that were so far off the truth I almost did not recognize who they were talking about!
Clarence Page wrote in his column about Frey’s book, “Can’t handle the truth? Try truthiness.… The truth may make you free, but the truthiness will help you to feel better about yourself.”
Christians, however, are supposed to be people of the Truth, not truthiness.
Truthiness was funny when used on “The Colbert Report.” It is sad when used in Baptist life.
University of Minnesota professor Anatoly Liberman said on National Public Radio that if the word continues to be used, “truthiness” may someday be added to our dictionaries.
Hopefully it will quickly be expunged from Missouri Baptist life.
Brian Kaylor is editor and president of Word&Way, associate director of Churchnet, and a contributing editor for EthicsDaily.com.