The word of the past decade (2011-2020) is ‘fake news.’ That, at least, is the opinion of the fine folk at the Macquarie Dictionary. They held an online vote to discover the ‘Word of the Decade’. But there was a catch (there’s always a catch!): you could only choose from their list of the ‘Words of the Year’ from the past ten years (twenty words in all, ten from the dictionary’s judging panel and ten voted in by the public each year). Voting was only open for a short time, and ‘fake news’ sprinted home.
The expression ‘fake news’ first appeared as long ago as 1890 in a newspaper report in Wisconsin. And it has re-appeared from time to time since – especially in reports about what Americans call ‘supermarket tabloids’ – those down-market sensationalist papers that published made up stories (‘I Was Raped by an Alien and Gave Birth to a Fish’). But ‘fake news’ really took off from about 2010 when it started to be used by serious journalists to label made-up stories on social media.
From there it was picked up by Donald Trump in 2016 and became as widespread as it is today. The point about ‘fake news’ is not that it is saying that a story is wrong, or mistaken, or that the interpretation of the facts is a mistake – the real meaning of ‘fake news’ is that the story has been made up, invented totally from scratch, by someone. It is pure fiction masquerading as real news. It’s that invention that makes a story ‘fake news’. (As a cynical friend of mine remarked, ‘In voting for the Logies it’s hard to know whether to put ABC News under “best comedy” or “best drama”.’)
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