Merriam-Webster, the best dictionary on Twitter, would like to remind people what the definition of a fact is. One person in particular: Kellyanne Conway, counselor to Trump and parroter of falsehoods, who coined the term “alternative facts” in Meet The Press on Sunday.
Conway’s use of “alternative facts” came the day after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer reprimanded journalists for reporting the objective truth that Trump’s inauguration was poorly attended. He claimed the crowd “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.” This is despite the contrary evidence of aerial photos of the National Mall, Nielsen television ratings, and Metro reports on subway riders on Saturday.
Merriam-Webster saw a spike in lookups of the word “fact” after Conway’s Meet The Press interview. “In contemporary use,” Merriam-Webster writes, “fact is generally understood to refer to something with actual existence, or presented as having objective reality.” This is the latest post in Merriam-Webster’s “Trend Watch” feature. Lauren Naturale, Merriam-Webster’s content and social media manager, said that none of the four people involved with the Trend Watch post on the lookup of “fact” thought they should suppress the story. “Choosing not to report that trend would have been much more political than continuing as we always have,” Naturale said. “If you don’t believe that words matter, why are you consulting a dictionary?”
Merriam-Webster has a history of applying common sense to political words, as when it added transphobia, nonbinary, cis, cisgender, genderqueer, gender reassignment, gender-fluid, and Mx to its digital pages last April. Such updates and reports on spiking lookups represent nothing more than a snapshot of the real world, and as Peter Sokolowski, the editor at large of Merriam-Webster, told The Atlantic, “We’re not crusaders for anything but accuracy.”