Suppose you were arrested. You hired an attorney to defend you, and you won the case in court. Would you say that was a “fake” arrest?
Imagine that your family is planning a picnic this afternoon. You tune in to a local weather report and find out that a severe storm is on the way. You cancel the picnic. Was that a “fake” weather report?
You and a friend go to a movie and really enjoy it. Later you come across a review of the movie. The reviewer thought it was awful – badly written and acted, with a boring plot and dull characters. Was that a”fake”movie review?
I would say that the arrest, weather report, and movie review all were real. They happened. There was nothing make-believe about them. To me, “fake” means “not true.” An example would be a false murder scene: Someone laid a mannequin in a dark alley and shook catsup over it to look like blood.
Another example would be fake Rolex watch. It wasn’t manufactured by the Rolex company, and the quality is poor. It’s not a real Rolex.
Lately “fake news” has become a popular complaint. Some people don’t seem to know what “fake” means anymore. If you don’t like something, it’s fake. If it offends you, or it’s confusing, it’s fake.
This week someone on Quora argued that English spelling is “fake” because there are so many inconsistencies. Silent and psychology start with the same sound but are spelled very differently. So are key and quiche – and there are many others.
I understand their point – but I’m also flummoxed. If you say that psychology is a fake spelling, you seem to be asking for someone to supply the real one. But that isn’t what the questioner was asking. Apparently they were trying to say that the spelling doesn’t make sense, and why don’t we do something about it?
Perhaps in 20 years, “disagreeable” and “confusing” will be the dictionary definitions of fake. The meanings of words often change over time, and it could certainly happen to fake. (Silly used to mean “innocent,” for example.)
But right now we seem to be mired in confusion. People don’t trust the news media because all the reporting is “fake.”
Does that mean that journalists are making up – for example – the news that President Trump wants to extend the US-China trade talks past the March 1 deadline? I just saw a video clip of President Trump talking about the proposed extension. Is that “fake news”? Was I watching an actor pretending to be President Trump? If so, why didn’t the White House denounce it?
Language is a complex tool. Sometimes it shines a light on the truth; at other times it’s cagey and slippery. My suggestion today is that we try to be as precise as possible.
The English language is richly endowed with words we can use to disagree with something: error, mistake, distortion, dishonest, lie, bias, cover-up, oversight, overreaction, confusion, conspiracy, and so on. “Fake” – in my opinion – should be reserved for those eyelashes I used to buy at CVS to wear at dance competitions.