>I would really like to get some agreement on this word or for people to give up using it altogether. I most recently ran across it this morning while reading Elizabeth Kolbert’s review of some new Hillary Clinton biographies in The New Yorker:
Sympathetic and unsympathetic biographers alike tend to tell Clinton’s more recent history as a sequence of spectacular humiliations—first Gennifer, then health care, then Monica—followed by even more spectacular recoveries: an office in the West Wing, a seat in the United States Senate, a shot at the Presidency. Along the way, they offer some never before disclosed documents or factoids.
One of my first task with new editors or reviewers is to educate them in Horn Book usage of factoid, which we take to mean, following Norman Mailer’s coinage of the term in his biography of Marilyn Monroe, something that looks and sounds like a fact but isn’t. Our Guide reviewers particularly, faced with the mountain of nonfiction series books that splash random data about their subjects around usually hectic double-page spreads, want to use it to mean “small fact,” a usage we immediately spank out of them. I can appreciate words with multiple meanings, but not when they can be used to mean two contradictory things: are these Hillary Clinton books giving us trivia or telling us lies?