You Don't Say John E. McIntyre writes about language, usage, journalism & arbitrarily chosen subjects.

In a word: veracity

The Baltimore Sun

Each week The Sun's John McIntyre presents a relatively obscure but evocative word with which you may not be familiar, another brick to add to the wall of your vocabulary. This week's word:

VERACITY

English has mined the Latin verus, “true,” to get very, verily, verify, verity, veracious, and veracity (pronounced vuh-RAS-uh-tee). We are plainly preoccupied with discovering or identifying that which is true.

Veracity can mean devotion or dedication to the truth, the ability to perceive or communicate truth, accuracy, or a thing that is itself true.

Example: Paul Theroux, in “Raw Material,” Smithsonian, December 2014, on a mural by Thomas Hart Benton: “The sketches and paintings in the adjacent rooms are proof of what Benton said of the veracity of his mural: ‘Every detail of every picture is a thing I myself have seen and known. Every head is a real person drawn from life.’ ”

This cluster of words would not be urgently needed if the truth were always plain and readily available. To fully describe the situation in which we find ourselves requires looking at another word:

MENDACIOUS

The person or statement that is mendacious (pronounced men-DAY-shus) diverges from the truth. That divergence in its mildest form could be considered to be an exaggeration, but we commonly think of mendacious as expressing falsehood by lying or deceiving. Mendacious people are dishonest.

It is from the Latin menda, “fault,” akin to mendax, “lying,” and mendicus, “beggar.”

Example: Kitty Kelley, writing in “Unauthorized, But Not Untrue” in the Winter 2011 issue of The American Scholar: “House Majority Leader Tom DeLay wrote to my publisher, saying that I was in the ‘advanced stage of a pathological career,’ and that Doubleday, the house of Rudyard Kipling, Booker T. Washington, and Anne Frank, was in ‘moral collapse’ because they had published my ‘scandalous and mendacious enterprise.’ Days later, DeLay was publicly rebuked by the House Ethics Committee three times for unethical conduct. Within a year he was indicted in a criminal investigation in Texas and charged with a felony that forced his resignation from the House of Representatives.”

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