Stephen Colbert coined the word ‘truthiness’ on the very first episode of The Colbert Report, in an attempt to describe statements that have that truthful flavor about them, but without any actual truthful content. The word caught on and entered the lexicon, and the most recent NY Times Magazine On Language column looks back at its five-year history and the “Colbert suffix” that has now come to indicate that ersatz feeling.

Mentioned as an example of the suffix’s spread is Charles Seife’s latest book Proofiness: The Dark Arts of Mathematical Deception. Seife’s book is a look at “the idea that you can use the language of mathematics to convince people something is true even when it is not.” The book is chock full of various people—primarily but not always political people—tinging their speeches, statements, and arguments with ‘mathiness’ in order to make their positions seem to have a factuality and solidity that isn’t really there. The book is getting very good reviews, from the Washington Post, NPR, and the NY Times, for instance. Interviews with Seife can be found here and here, and a brief excerpt appears here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *