What is a Factoid?
A factoid is a piece of brief or trivial information or news that is false but presented as a fact so often that it is accepted as a truth rather than a falsehood.
It was first coined by the American author Norman Mailer in his autobiography of Marilyn Monroe in 1973, where he referred to factoids as “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”. So by that logic, you could say everything in the Daily Mail is a factoid.
The word itself is a combination of the word “fact” and the ending “oid,” meaning “similar but not the same.”
The reason a “factoid” is often seen to be a trivial but interesting fact rather than a falsehood is widely attributed to the term’s popularization by the CNN Headline News TV Channel, which often included facts under the heading “factoid” during their newscasts in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It was also used incorrectly to describe a fact rather than a falsehood on BBC Radio 2 by presenter Steve Wright.
A historian by the name of Dion Smythe states that “factoids” are assertions about the truth due to documented historical opinions. In this meaning, a factoid’s truth comes only from objective opinion in the absence of actual factual and historical information. Once again, this makes them an opinion rather than a fact just as Norman Mailer initially described them.
What is a factlet?
The correct word to describe a small and interesting piece factual of information is actually a “factlet.”
However, nobody really knows where the term “factlet” came from. In a report published by The Guardian in 2014, it stated that William Safire was the first person to use the term, advocating its use over “factoid” in his “On Language” column.
However, in the same column, Safire himself said that the word was already in existence and that he didn’t know where it had come from.
So regardless of its murky origins, ditch “factoid” and swap it for “factlet” in your vocabulary if you want to be more accurate!