Friday, October 21, 2005

A Postoid

From CNN's Money website, earlier today:

"Warren Buffett is the one who clued me into this in his 2003 letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders. He had this little factoid: In 1952, corporations accounted for 32 percent of federal tax receipts (the post-war peak). In 2003, corporations accounted for 7.4 percent of federal tax receipts."

Clearly this is an alarming statistic. But not if it's a "factoid." See, a "factoid" is something that looks true, but really isn't. Just as a "humanoid" is something that looks human, but isn't... or a "spheroid" is something that looks spherical, but isn't.

"Factoid" began to lose its meaning around the early '80's, if I remember correctly. When USA Today premiered, and the press needed to find something catchy to call those pie charts and little tidbits of information in the corners of the pages. Of course, they could have used "trivia" -- a perfectly good word -- but it probably seemed too retro. Smelled of buggy whips and mustache wax.

Besides, no one was really using the word "factoid" anyway. Americans hate the idea that they might read or hear something that looks true, but isn't. But something that IS true, but unimportant? THAT's a uniquely American concept, just begging for a word to hang it on. Enter "factoid."

Is it important? Probably not very, but for just a few minutes, while you were reading this, you forgot that corporations are paying far less in taxes than they used to. See how I diverted you from the big story? Just like the media! Try it yourself... it's fun!

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