Monday, April 8, 2013

Truth - Truthy - Truthiness

Truth can be stated in a thousand different ways, 
yet each one can be true. - Swami Vivekananda

How often has someone you know told a story or shared something that didn’t sound quite right to you?  "That’s not the way it happened," says the little voice in your head.

I have one sister who remembers everything much differently than I do … and I mean everything.  We argued about the differences between our shared memories for years.  Thank goodness we finally stopped squabbling after I read an article that made me realize that I had a right to my own memories – just as she had a right to hers.  Now in agreement that the way each of us remembers our past is “right,” we can reminisce with only a slight rolling of eyes. 

Truth: that which is in accord with fact or reality.

Writers must do their best to write the truth.  They must gather the facts, research supportive documents, organize the material and double-check specifics – all before writing a single word.  To this point, they have researched the truth and formulated in their head what they want to say. 

But once they begin writing, they weave their story together with their own unconscious biases, prejudices and judgments.  They choose what to omit and what to include.  They choose where to put negative or positive emphasis through description and emotion.  In essence, what they write is an edited version of the truth written as honestly as possible – but it is their truth, not the truth.

Those in the legal system recognize that more than one truth exists.  Once thought to be infallible, the courts now accept that eyewitness testimony is often different for those who witness a crime or an accident.  While most witnesses are doing their best to be honest and credible, they swear to conflicting testimony due to their own unconscious perceptions and ability to comprehend what they witnessed – their truth – their reality. 

Reality leaves a lot to the imagination – John Lennon

As a writer, it’s important to acknowledge that others recall things differently and won’t always agree with you.  It’s easy to get caught up in defending your words, but if you are able to step back and recognize they are entitled to their own perspective, you’ll be less hurt … and less combative.  You’ll find comfort in the knowledge that you’ve done your best to write your truth.  That’s the best you can do. 

Truthy: truthful; likely; probable.

During a screenwriting workshop, the subject of truth came up.  In the movie industry, by necessity, the truth takes a back seat to cinematographic content.  A novel has hundreds, even thousands of pages in which to make an impact.  A movie has a brief 90 minutes.  How many times have you, as a reader, been shocked at a movie’s storyline?  The fact is, there is not time to show every facet of the story or meticulously portray the characters in that 90 minutes; so the writer must condense … adapt the story into a watchable format. 

We learned that although movies may not be based on the factual truth, screenwriters do their best to tell the emotional truth of the original story.  We had fun with the word when someone in the class said that means that screenplays are "truthy."  And I guess that’s as good as it gets in the screenwriting field. I know you’ve read it, “This movie is based on a true story” – in other words, the movie is truthy.

Although rarely used, the word truthy was first used in the 19th century.  It appears in my 1951 Webster New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged.

Now for some truthiness fun.

Truthiness: a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. 

American television comedian and political satirist Stephen Colbert coined the word in this meaning during the pilot episode of "The Word" on October 17, 2005.  The word truthiness was soon on magazine covers and the topic of news shows across the nation.  

Truthiness was named Word of the Year for 2005 by the American Dialect Society and for 2006 by Merriam-Webster.  Although the word appears in the Oxford English Dictionary and the Century Dictionary as a derivation of truthy, Colbert explained the origin of his word as, "Truthiness is  a word I pulled right out of my keister ..."  - Wikipedia
And that brings us to tonight's word: truthiness - The quality of stating qualities that one wishes or believes to be true, rather than the facts.
Now I'm sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster's, are gonna say, 'Hey, that's not a word.' Well, anybody who knows me knows that 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. - Stephen Colbert
Just FYI, truthiness also appears in my 1951 Websters New Twentieth Century Dictionary, Unabridged.  It appears then, that Mr. Colbert's claim that he created the term has a certain amount of, well, truthiness to it.

Good luck with finding your truth.  

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