WOOZLES, FACTOIDS & FACTS

(I feel uncomfortable—and lazy—using Wikipedia for my research in an essay about the validity of information in discourse but, yes, I am lazy. Besides, this Wikipedia information seems well sourced. Anyway, to quote:)

 A Woozle is an imaginary creature in . . . Winnie the Pooh, published 1926. In chapter three, “In Which Pooh and Piglet Go Hunting and Nearly Catch a Woozle,” Winnie the Pooh and Piglet start following tracks left in snow believing they are the tracks of a Woozle. The         tracks keep multiplying. Christopher Robin then explains that they have been following their own tracks around a tree.”

woozle tracks

The creature’s name has been applied to “’the Woozle effect,’ where a particular finding gets quoted and re-quoted because it sounds logical and has the ring of truth, regardless of the reliability of the original source.”

(If this Wikipedia material is inaccurate, I have just woozled.)

Woozling happens constantly in politics. Maybe it has always happened, but it happens super-fast and relentlessly today, thanks to the Internet, cable news shows, radio talk shows, and the disciplined use by politicians and pundits of “talking points” supplied by really intelligent, sophisticated, and sociopathic consultants.

In many cases woozling is a more palatable, seemingly respectable version of what could also be called “lying.”

Factoids are similar to woozles. Norman Mailer coined the word in 1973, defining them as “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper.” According to the Washington Times, as quoted in Wikipedia, a factoid is “something that looks like a fact, could be a fact, but in fact is not a fact.”

Unfortunately, although it’s such a good word, factoid is constantly misused to signify a minor, insignificant true fact. (“True fact” should be a redundancy, but we live in a world where we have to distinguish between “true facts” and “untrue facts.”)

Quibbling about terminology (I wish quibble was formed from question and nibble, but it wasn’t) is not as important as worrying about the widespread dissemination of lies (often called “misinformation,” an ugly euphemism) in politics. There are, fortunately, websites that monitor public discourse and point out woozles, distortions, and factoids. But their impact doesn’t match the force of the spreading of the original false “facts.”

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5 comments

  1. […] Source: WOOZLES, FACTOIDS & FACTS […]

  2. Ed Curtis · · Reply

    This is a really good piece. In our lifetime, we have seen the act of woozling rise to an art form, largely as a result of digital communications technology. I can woozle an reach hundreds of people with whom I have credibility. Politicians can reach millions. — Ed C

    PS — It just occurred to me that it is possible to woozle while you work!

  3. Consider the pertinent saying (from way before the Internet!) that
            A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.
    The common attribution of this saying to Mark Twain is a benign woozle; the earliest expression of the idea seems to be by Jonathan Swift in 1710:
            Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it.
    Details are in http://quoteinvestigator.com/2014/07/13/truth/

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