Factoid: we’re allowed to make up words

We’re writers. We can do this. There’s precedence. You already know that Shakespeare, when stuck for the right phrase, would sooner make it up than consult a thesaurus, but he wasn’t alone. And sometimes writers create words that then run away from them, that escape their writer and come to mean something else:

On occasion, a writer will coin a fine neologism that spreads quickly but then changes meaning. “Factoid” was a term created by Norman Mailer in 1973 for a piece of information that becomes accepted as a fact even though it’s not actually true, or an invented fact believed to be true because it appears in print. Mailer wrote in Marilyn, “Factoids…that is, facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority.” Of late, factoid has come to mean a small or trivial fact that makes it a contronym (also called a Janus word) in that it means both one thing and its opposite, such as “cleve” (to cling or to split), “sanction” (to permit or to punish) or “citation” (commendation or a summons to appear in court). So factoid has become a victim of novelist C.S. Lewis’s term “verbicide,” the willful distortion or deprecation of a word’s original meaning.

The Origins of Writerly Words – Paul Dickson, Time (30 April 2014)

Read the full Time magazine piece.

Amazon: if you’re going to quote Orwell, do it right

I did not see this. But then I also haven’t written an email trying to paint myself as the goodie in the fight between Amazon and Hachette publishers. Previously I’ve confessed I’m a bit lost in the details yet Amazon’s email so enraged me that I’ve become, well, enraged.

The bit of the Amazon email that left the most bad taste in my mouth was the company’s bad taste in tying its commercial interests to the Second World War. But it also said this:

“The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if ‘publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.’ Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.”

An Important Kindle Request – email from Amazon (9 August 2014)

The New York Times was a bit more thorough than I was: it checked the source. The newspaper reports:

This perceived slur on the memory of one of the 20th century’s most revered truth-tellers might prove to be one of Amazon’s biggest public relations blunders since it deleted copies of “1984” from readers’ Kindles in 2009.

A moment’s web searching would have revealed to the Amazon Books Team, which is credited as the source of the Hachette post, that it was wildly misrepresenting this “famous author.”

When Orwell wrote that line, he was celebrating paperbacks published by Penguin, not urging suppression or collusion. Here is what the writer actually said in The New English Weekly on March 5, 1936: “The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.”

Orwell then went on to undermine Amazon’s argument for cheap e-books. “It is, of course, a great mistake to imagine that cheap books are good for the book trade,” he wrote, saying that the opposite was true.

“The cheaper books become,” he wrote, “the less money is spent on books.”

Instead of buying two expensive books, he said, the consumer will buy three cheap books and then use the rest of the money to go to the movies. “This is an advantage from the reader’s point of view and doesn’t hurt trade as a whole, but for the publisher, the compositor, the author and the bookseller, it is a disaster,” Orwell wrote.In a Fight With Authors, Amazon Cites Orwell, but Not Quite Correctly – David Streitfeld, New York Times (10 August 2014)

NYT’s full piece also quotes a tweet to Amazon from technology journalist Glenn Fleishman, who wrote:

He was using irony. It’s a literary device. You sell books. What is wrong with you?