[Ads-l] "Alternative facts" for EOTY

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Mon Jan 23 14:56:08 EST 2017


> On Jan 23, 2017, at 1:57 PM, Baker, John <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM> wrote:
> 
> For better or worse, I would say that a quote does not become unnotable simply because it is widely misunderstood.
> 
> In any case, I think that Conway bears a measure of responsibility for expressing herself poorly.  If she meant that a better or more accurate understanding of the facts was being presented, she should have said that.  Frankly, I don't think she was all that comfortable focusing on the factual accuracy of Spicer's statements.
> 
> 
> John Baker

“Who ya gonna believe, me or your own [lying] eyes?”

—slightly adapted from Chico Marx in Duck Soup (apud YBOQ, p. 497) 

LH
> 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Shapiro, Fred
> Sent: Monday, January 23, 2017 1:29 PM
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> Subject: Re: "Alternative facts" for EOTY
> 
> My initial reaction when I heard that Kellyanne Conway had said something about "alternative facts" was that this was a remarkable quote that was well-positioned to become the notable quotation of the year, if not the century.  But upon studying the quote a little further, it seems very likely that Conway simply meant to say "more accurate facts than those being alleged by the anti-Trump media."  The larger idea that the new President and his administration are prone to uttering falsehoods may be spot-on, but the Conway quote, I think, is being distorted and that distortion will play into a narrative that the "mainstream media" are completely "out to get" the Trump administration.
> 
> 
> Fred Shapiro
> 
> 
> 
> ________________________________
> From: American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU> on behalf of Baker, John <JBAKER at STRADLEY.COM>
> Sent: Sunday, January 22, 2017 11:27 PM
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> Subject: Re: "Alternative facts" for EOTY
> 
> Well, what did Kellyanne Conway mean?    Here's the relevant passage, from https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.nbcnews.com_meet-2Dthe-2Dpress_meet-2Dpress-2D01-2D22-2D17-2Dn710491-3A&d=CwIGaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=NvsW-OhBbzxE92nK31T2wnmV21_Bx7bPCKzIsk5T4FQ&m=6zM9mVV0D59Dfet5QeF2ZKfxoiAyAe90C9cYyAYQjzE&s=1zmRG2FJ0wx1W6Of2gVSMzVQvH6kFk8e6-jHsg77eG4&e=
> 
> 
> 
> <<CHUCK TODD:
> 
> 
> 
> You did not--
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> 
> 
> KELLYANNE CONWAY:
> 
> 
> 
> Yes I did.
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> 
> 
> CHUCK TODD:
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> 
> 
> --answer the question of why the president asked the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood? Why did he do that? It undermines the credibility of the entire White House press office--
> 
> 
> 
> KELLYANNE CONWAY:
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> 
> 
> No it doesn't.
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> 
> 
> CHUCK TODD:
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> 
> 
> --on day one.
> 
> 
> 
> KELLYANNE CONWAY:
> 
> 
> 
> Don't be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What-- You're saying it's a falsehood. And they're giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.>>
> 
> 
> 
> (It will probably be easier to construe that last sentence if you understand it to contain dashes:  "And they're giving--Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave--alternative facts to that.")
> 
> 
> 
> Conway used the phrase again a little later in the program, although it's broken by an interruption from Todd:
> 
> 
> 
> <<CHUCK TODD:
> 
> 
> 
> Can you please answer the question? Why did he do this? You have not answered it.
> 
> 
> 
> KELLYANNE CONWAY:
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> 
> 
> I'll answer--
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> 
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> CHUCK TODD:
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> It's only one question.
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> 
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> KELLYANNE CONWAY:
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> 
> 
> --it this way. I'll answer it this way. Think about what you just said to your viewers. That's why we feel compelled to go out and clear the air and put alternative--
> 
> 
> 
> CHUCK TODD:
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> 
> 
> So it's a political tactic?
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> 
> 
> KELLYANNE CONWAY:
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> 
> 
> --facts out there.
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> 
> 
> CHUCK TODD:
> 
> 
> 
> It's a political tactic to come up with alternative facts and try to set up the press as your enemy?
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> 
> 
> KELLYANNE CONWAY:
> 
> 
> 
> No I didn't say that at all. And that's not why I'm here in this building. I'm here because of all the provable, quantifiable facts, because of the devastation and destruction in our schools with our health care, in our economy, with our small business owners.>>
> 
> 
> 
> I can think of three things that Conway might have meant:
> 
> 
> 
> 1.      She could have meant a sort of fantasy interpretation in which, shall we say, fictional facts are as valid as factual facts.  In other words, as Wilson suggests, alternative facts are simply lies.  That seems to be how the phrase is being taken generally, but it's an unlikely meaning for her to have.
> 
> 
> 
> 2.      She could have meant that Spicer was presenting an alternative version of the facts that arguably was based on evidence as good or better than the evidence supporting the facts reported by the press.  This presumably is how Spicer himself would describe what he was doing (although the evidence for his "facts" does not stand up to scrutiny).
> 
> 
> 
> 3.      She could have meant that Spicer was presenting other facts that are arguably more important than the facts reported by the press and that arguably cast those facts in a different light.  Conway's references to health care, the economy, and small business owners suggest that this may be what she thought she was saying.
> 
> 
> 
> Regardless of what Conway actually meant, of course, the public is going to think that alternative facts = lies.  And since both Spicer and Conway seem to be trading in falsehoods, that's an understandable view.
> 
> 
> 
> Whether or not "alternative facts" turns out to have legs as a WOTY candidate, I think we already have an early entry on Fred's list of the quotes of the year.
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> John Baker
> 
> 
> 
> 
> 
> -----Original Message-----
> 
> From: American Dialect Society [mailto:ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU] On Behalf Of Wilson Gray
> 
> Sent: Sunday, January 22, 2017 9:50 PM
> 
> To: ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU
> 
> Subject: Re: "Alternative facts" for EOTY
> 
> 
> 
> An alt-term for "lies," I take it.
> 
> 
> 
> On Sun, Jan 22, 2017 at 7:45 PM, Laurence Horn <laurence.horn at yale.edu>
> 
> wrote:
> 
> 
> 
>> That's our refashioned Euphemism of the Year category.  See, inter
> 
>> many alia, https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.cnn.com_2017_01_22_politics_kellyanne-2Dconway-2D&d=CwIGaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=NvsW-OhBbzxE92nK31T2wnmV21_Bx7bPCKzIsk5T4FQ&m=6zM9mVV0D59Dfet5QeF2ZKfxoiAyAe90C9cYyAYQjzE&s=KACVR3k-_8Hk5dzSt5fAD4MvlPd0lmMTVahVUjaxDfk&e=
> 
>> alternative-facts/
> 
>> 
> 
>> I'm afraid we'll get a whole bunch of strong candidates for this
> 
>> category over the next 11+ months...
> 
>> 
> 
>> LH
> 
>> ------------------------------------------------------------
> 
>> The American Dialect Society - https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=CwIGaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=NvsW-OhBbzxE92nK31T2wnmV21_Bx7bPCKzIsk5T4FQ&m=6zM9mVV0D59Dfet5QeF2ZKfxoiAyAe90C9cYyAYQjzE&s=ZP7J6qMVGz-iG1dmwt5UHwy5HqDiuF0lRcUyq2lcerE&e=
> 
>> 
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> 
> --
> 
> -Wilson
> 
> -----
> 
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"---a strange complaint to come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> 
> -Mark Twain
> 
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> 
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> 
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> 
> The American Dialect Society - https://urldefense.proofpoint.com/v2/url?u=http-3A__www.americandialect.org&d=CwIGaQ&c=-dg2m7zWuuDZ0MUcV7Sdqw&r=NvsW-OhBbzxE92nK31T2wnmV21_Bx7bPCKzIsk5T4FQ&m=6zM9mVV0D59Dfet5QeF2ZKfxoiAyAe90C9cYyAYQjzE&s=ZP7J6qMVGz-iG1dmwt5UHwy5HqDiuF0lRcUyq2lcerE&e=
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