Truthiness. Now I'm sure some of the Word Police, the wordanistas over at Webster's, are gonna say, "Hey, that's not a word." Well, anybody who knows me knows that I'm no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They're elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn't true, or what did or didn't happen. Who's Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that's my right. I don't trust books. They're all fact, no heart."Wordanistas," by the way, should definitely have been the runner up for word of the year. Anyway, the linguists have already spent a lot of time discussing Colbert's new word, pointing out, among other things, that it's not actually a new word, though Colbert's meaning is different from the OED's established (and from what I can tell, rarely used) meaning. Michael Adams, a linguist at North Carolina State University, defined truthiness, in the Colbertian sense, as something that is "truthy, not facty."
Now that the linguists have had their say, it's time for the cognitive psychologists to speak about truthiness. "Truthy, not facty" strikes me as a pretty good way of describing the way we usually think about things. Most of the time, when we're thinking about the world, we're not trying to determine whether the information we're receiving from it is factual, but instead working to integrate it with the representations we've already got. The information that we're likely to notice, and keep, is just the information that fits with those representations, regardless of whether that information happens to fit with the facts. If something is truthy because it fits with our beliefs, but not with facts, then a lot of what we'll end up believing with be truthy, not facty. It's because of this that you get things like cognitive dissonance or the confirmation bias. Those involve searching for and emphasizing truthiness over factiness.
The preference for truthiness over factiness is also one of the things behind the sorts of rhetorical strategies that underlie someone like Lakoff's framing analysis. The factiness of any particular political or ethical issue can be interpreted in many different ways depending on the way one thinks and talks about the truthiness of those issues. It can't be a coincidence, then, that Colbert's coining of the term was meant as a spoof of the anti-intellectualism that's rampant on the right side of the political spectrum. That anti-intellectualism is all about spinning the truthiness of an issue to cause people to either ignore the issues factiness, or interpret that factiness in a certain way. It's a direct manipulation of the way people naturally think. And Colbert's, or his writers' recognition of this fact makes me wonder if he or they took a few cognitive psychology courses in college. Or perhaps they're just naturally insightful in the ways of the mind. Either way, since the word is so descriptive of what's going on when people reason about the world, it's only a matter of time before "truthiness" makes its way into the cognition literature.