Kellyanne Conway’s Use of “Alternative Facts” Causes a Spike on Merriam-Webster Website
As a high school English teacher, I often find myself consulting the dictionary to make sure I am precise in my usage of obscure words.
“Fact” and “falsehood” are not on my obscure word list.
In a January 22, 2017, exchange with Chuck Todd of NBC’s Meet the Press, Trump whisperer Kellyanne Conway tries to shift usage of the word “falsehood” to her newly-spun term, “alternative facts” in reference to Trump Press Secretary Sean Spicer’s first press conference.
One of Spicer’s
“alternative facts” lies involved his stating the following:
This was the largest audience, ever, to witness an inauguration, period.
Here is the exchange between Todd and Conway:
Conway: “You’re saying it’s [Spicer’s statement about inauguration crowd size is] a falsehood, and Sean Spicer, our press secretary is giving alternative facts to that.”
Todd: “Wait a minute, alternative facts? Alternative facts — four of the five facts he uttered, the one that he got right was Zeke Miller, four of the five facts he uttered are not true. Alternative facts are not facts — they’re falsehoods.”
What is interesting is what the Merriam-Webster website has to add concerning the Todd-Conway exchange:
Fact (“a piece of information presented as having objective reality”) spiked dramatically on January 22nd, following an exchange between Chuck Todd and Kellyanne Conway on NBC’s Meet the Press that was fraught with epistemological tension. …
Apparently America was either second guessing itself after hearing Conway’s spin or reaffirming that it just heard Conway try to reshape the English language in order to make Spicer, um, “otherwise truthful.”
Merriam-Webster then sets the record straight:
Fact meaning “a wrong or unlawful deed” is rare, but is still used in the phrase “after the fact.”
In contemporary use, fact is generally understood to refer to something with actual existence, or presented as having objective reality.
And, as one might expect, the media are (wait for it) in fact all over this latest Conwayism:
A snippet from Maxwell Tani of the Business Insider:
“I don’t think ultimately presidents are judged by crowd sizes. They’re judged by their accomplishments,” Conway said, noting the inauguration’s television ratings.
But Todd continued to press Conway, who said he was not treating Spicer with respect.
“You make a reasonable and rational case for why crowd sizes don’t matter. You did not answer the question,” Todd said. “Why put him out there for the very first time to utter a provable falsehood?”
“If we’re going to keep referring to our press secretary in those types of terms, we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here,” Conway replied.
And Daniel Politi of Slate magazine:
Now they tell us. Turns out that President Donald Trump’s administration doesn’t lie, it just has different versions of the truth. Kellyanne Conway, the omnipresent senior aide to the president, said Sunday that the White House press secretary wasn’t lying when he lied about crowd numbers at the inauguration, he was merely presenting “alternative facts.” Even though Sean Spicer said something that was evidently false by claiming Trump enjoyed “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration—period,” that is not a lie.
The phrase that will go down in history because with two simple words, Conway perfectly illustrated how the Trump administration has a tortured relationship with the truth.
And David Mack of Buzzfeed:
Sean Spicer, the new White House press secretary, gave his first media briefing on Saturday, kicking off his tenure with an easily verifiable falsehood.
“This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in person and around the globe,” Spicer told reporters.
Yeah, not so much.
Mack adds that “pretty soon, #AlternativeFacts was trending on Twitter.”
In his Buzzfeed article, Mack included these Associated Press photos of the Mall just before noon for both the 2009 (Obama) and 2017 (Trump) inaugurations, respectively:
For those of the Spicer-Conway mind: The white space in the latter pic means nobody is standing there.
There are many other articles. Just google “Kellyanne Conway alternative facts.”
And remember: Throughout the Trump presidency, there’s always Merriam-Webster to clarify the non-Conway (i.e., legitimate) meaning of words.