Have we smothered the facts?: 'Post-truth' named word of the year
'I think post-truth speaks to a stark reality of how we engage the electorate, how we engage the public'
During a tumultuous political year - marked by Brexit and the U.S. presidential election - political observers were searching for a word to describe a reality beyond the facts.
Welcome to the "post-truth" era
According to Oxford Dictionary wordsmiths, "post-truth" captures "the ethos, mood, or preoccupations" of 2016. Oxford recently selected it as word of the year.
Edmonton writer, poet and educator Tim Cusack could not agree more.
"When the Oxford folks pick the word of the year, it's really a laborious process" Cusack said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. "They look at millions and millions of words and see which ones are popping up.
"They look for a word that is having an impact on the culture, the politics, and is at the forefront of the mindset of the populous. [Post-truth] really gained traction. It gained the fascination of the pundits, the journalists and of the electorate."
The publisher defines post-truth as "relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief."
Use of the adjective rose 2,000 per cent this year compared to last, and it's most often used to describe "post-truth politics." Jon Stewart of the Daily Show is credited with coining the phrase.
Cusack said it's a troubling political concept, an adjective borne out of frustration and distrust.
"When you think of post-truth, the denomination is that the truth is no longer meaningful or relevant," Cusack said. "And I think that's dangerous, because it says that facts are meaningless."
'It really evokes George Orwell'
Cusack said factual philandering by public figures has exhausted people's patience. As the political climate grows more suspect, fact-checking itself became a central theme in the final weeks of the U.S. presidential campaign.
"People have an opinion that the facts can be spun in a certain way, and that there is a distrust," he said. "And when we look at our media and we believe in that journalistic integrity, even that is being called into question by this term.
"It really evokes George Orwell. Anything can and will happen."
Other politically charged terms made Oxford's 2016 short-list. Among them, the recently coined term, alt-right, "an ideological grouping associated with extreme conservative or reactionary viewpoints, characterized by a rejection of mainstream politics," and Brexiteer, a person in favour of Britain withdrawing from the EU.
Longing for the happy emoji
In 2015, the word of the year was a pictograph for the first time, the "face with tears of joy" emoji.
The dramatic year-to-year change of mood could make any wordsmith despondent.
"Last year, of course, we had our happy emoji, and I think a lot of people would be happy to go back to that," Cusack said.
"But when we look at how politics has evolved or devolved, depending on your viewpoint, I think post-truth speaks to a stark reality of how we engage the electorate, how we engage the public."