Word of the decade

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In Australia, anyhow — "The Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Decade winner is…", 2/4/2021:

After a week of voting from the shortlist, we would like to announce fake news as the Macquarie Dictionary Word of the Decade […]

The Committee’s Choice for 2016fake news is Macquarie’s Word of the Decade. While we think of fake news as a coinage of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, it was around before then. However, it became emblematic of that campaign and the four years that followed it.

My impression is that Donald Trump (and others?) adopted the phrase fake news about five years ago as an English equivalent of lügenpresse. But before that, it seems to have meant something different — specifically, comedic or satirical news programs like SNL's Weekend Update, Stephen Colbert's Colbert Report, or Jon Stewart's The Daily Show. Thus "A First for Fake News", NYT 10/12/2004:

In a tiny NBC dressing room at Rockefeller Center, Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were searching for a good way to describe how it felt to be fake-news pioneers. A week earlier, they had become the first two-woman anchor team in the history of "Weekend Update" on "Saturday Night Live," a show that its female comedians characterized for years as a kind of comedy frat house.

Trying to be serious about joining Ms. Fey at the anchor desk, Ms. Poehler finally gave up and said, "I feel like — like — a blushing bride."

"And I," said Ms. Fey, without missing a beat, "feel like an older, Greek oil magnate who's taken a young bride. She's the Jackie O. to my Ari Onassis. Secretly, she's disgusted by me but she has no choice."

Or "The Real Fight Over Fake News", NYT 5/29/2008:

“The Daily Show” is a bellwether for the evolution of Internet video. It is also one of those programs that signify for people why they pay so much money for cable. […]

That’s why my eyebrows jumped when I saw the announcement last week that full episodes of three Comedy Central shows — “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” and “South Park” — will start being Webcast, both on MTV-owned sites and on the Fancast site from Comcast.

Or "The Spinoff Zone", New Yorker 11/21/2005:

“The Colbert Report” is an offspring of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,” and comes on immediately afterward, at eleven-thirty (each show is rerun four times the next day); in some ways, it seems like an extension of Stewart’s “fake news” show, partly because Colbert worked on that show for many years (even before Stewart took over as host from Craig Kilborn) and partly because both are concerned with politicians and the media. 




  1. Philip Taylor said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 10:43 am

    I know that I am far more conservative, linguistically speaking, than many who write or comment here, but is it really possible for a phrase such as "fake news" to also be classified as a word ?

    [(myl) Geoff Pullum and Ben Zimmer discussed this back in 2011 —

    Geoff Pullum, "The 'Word of the Year' should be a word", 11/23/2011
    Ben Zimmer, "The 'Word of the Year' need not be a word", 11/23/2011

  2. Martha said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 11:22 am

    Philip Tayolor – I feel like people stress "fake news" like it's an adjective + noun, rather than a compound noun, which might indicate it's not a word. But I'd say it's an idiom that functions as one unit (it's different, connotatively, if not literally, from "false news," "incorrect news," "joke news," etc.), which would make it a "word."

    Norm MacDonald started Weekend Update in the '90s with "and now the fake news."

  3. Gregory Kusnick said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 11:28 am

    Webcast with a capital W? How quaint.

  4. Batchman said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 11:53 am

    In fact, "fake news" was the term used for news that appeared in the actual press which was not only non-factual but also intended to stir up reactions or malign individuals or institutions, like the Pizzagate story. The term was hijacked by Trump and right-wing media outlets to wield as a cudgel against left-of-center news sources and the association has stuck since then.

  5. Michael said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 3:04 pm

    Just to piggyback on Batchman, above, we in the librarian profession have been discussing "fake news" and what to do about it, since at least 2009.

  6. jarl van hoother said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 4:44 pm

    My own impression of the recent history of this phrase is that it came to prominence in 2016, referring specifically to the disinformation campaign waged by Russian intelligence agencies. It was first co-opted by Trump to mean its inverse – that is, referring to reporting ABOUT the Russian interference in the election – and then came more broadly to mean something like luegenpresse as Mark aptly said.

  7. Don P. said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 5:06 pm

    There's an important stopover for "fake news": for a moment it referred to things like (and maybe really only) the "Denver Guardian", which was a web site that seemed to belong to a plausible newspaper. But there is literally no such newspaper — or ever digital newspaper! — as the "Denver Guardian", and the site existed solely to host a single false "news story" about the Seth Rich murder. And, as @Batchman said, once the term got hijacked by the right wing, it became much harder to talk about such pure fiction.

  8. Anthonh said,

    February 4, 2021 @ 6:19 pm

    The "seven last words of Christ" weren't seven words.

  9. Peter Taylor said,

    February 5, 2021 @ 5:41 am

    With respect to Martha's comment about functioning as a single unit, I've heard fake news used as a loanword in Spanish, which supports the idea that it functions as a unit.

  10. Philip Taylor said,

    February 5, 2021 @ 7:32 am

    Reading Martha's comment again in the light of Peter's comment above, I tend to focus on this aspect — « it's different, connotatively, if not literally, from "false news," "incorrect news," "joke news," etc. ». Whilst I agree that it is definitely differ
    ent from "joke news", I feel that it differs from "false news" and "incorrect news" only in the sense that "fake news" is intentionally fake/false/incorrect news whilst the other two are not.

  11. MattF said,

    February 5, 2021 @ 9:21 am

    What if… the relevant authority declared that ‘fake news’ must hereby be written ‘fakenews’? Would that make it one word?

  12. Philip Taylor said,

    February 5, 2021 @ 9:34 am

    Not until it was accepted into the OED ☺ But even the OED's standards have started slipping of late, so perhaps not even then …

  13. Viseguy said,

    February 5, 2021 @ 11:52 pm

    Oh, for the days when "fake news" was an oxymoron!

  14. jpiitula said,

    February 6, 2021 @ 4:36 am

    A search result, already dismissed as "slipping standards" but anyway:

    OED added the relevant sense of "fake news" in October, 2019: "fake news: news that conveys or incorporates false, fabricated, or deliberately misleading information, or that is characterized as or accused of doing so" (found under the heading "new sub-entries" in their "new words list October 2019" and they also tweeted about it at the time, highlighting just "fake news").

  15. Brenda said,

    February 10, 2021 @ 2:55 am

    In the course of looking up the history of "fake news" for my American Politics students, I came across an article from Harpers Magazine (volume 151, from October 1925) entitled "FAKE NEWS AND THE PUBLIC: HOW THE PRESS COMBATS RUMOR, THE MARKET RIGGER, AND THE PROPAGANDIST." It refers in this case to hoaxes perpetrated on legitimate newspapers, rather than the notion that the news itself is part of a conspiracy.

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