Is it a fact or is it facticity?

Facticity, you say? Surely that’s not really a word.

(Let’s not have that discussion again.)

I encountered facticity recently in an academic journal article: “There was no way around this facticity…” wrote the author. All he meant to say was “fact.”

Surely, I thought, this is merely pretentious wordiness?

In fact, it is. All facticity does is bloat up your language with a few extra syllables, and the usage isn’t even correct. You should write “factuality” or simply “fact,” and either of those words has the bonus of not causing your reader to twitch in her seat while she considers what exactly it was that she just read. You could also consider a completely different word, such as “truth” or “reality,” assuming that it carried the appropriate meaning in context.

Facticity is simply the wrong word. It appears to have come into English as a phonetic translation of the French facticité, where it has a specific meaning in academic philosophy.

AHD5, as is their habit, takes no stand on facticity, simply presenting a definition. OED doesn’t judge, either, but two things are interesting about their entry. The first is that they note first use only in 1945. The second is that two of the five examples they offer – including the origin example – put the word inside ‘quotation marks,’ indicating that the word is being used by the author in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way. This would be akin to writing about ‘nucular’ energy during the George W. Bush administration: the author knows the word is wrong, but uses it with this flagging to indicate that another layer of meaning is intended, perhaps an ironic or sarcastic intent.

Because of this, don’t take facticity too seriously. My recommendation would be to let it linger in obscurity and to keep it out of your vocabulary. Unless, of course, you’re writing about Heidegger, Sartre, and DeBeauvoir; but then be sure to use it properly.

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About thebettereditor

Chris holds a BA degree in history from the University of Virginia and a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) Degree in writing from the University of Southern Maine (Stonecoast). He has worked extensively with professional and semi-professional writers and enthusiastic amateurs for about 20 years. He has several years experience in scientific publishing, but has also worked in information technology, insurance, health care, and education (he taught writing at the university level for a number of years). Since 2011, he's also specialized in helping small business meet their writing and editing needs on a budget.
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2 Responses to Is it a fact or is it facticity?

  1. Pam Phillips says:

    Thank you for making it safe to ignore a word I never heard of.

    • You’re welcome! This is just one of many non-essential services I offer.
      (But seriously: There are already too many bloggers rehashing common vocabulary. I might as well dive straight into the obscure when the opportunity arises.)

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