The English language gives us many ways to call something (or someone) false or untruthful. In my latest column for the Visual Thesaurus, “Unreality Check,” I explore many of those options, from fake, phony, and kayfabe (from underworld slang) to swindle (from German) and disinformation (originally Russian). Full access to the column is restricted to subscribers (reminder: a VT subscription makes a great gift for a word-lover). Here’s an excerpt:
One term for intentional deception comes not from the Anglophone world but from Russian. Disinformation is a direct translation of Russian дезинформация, or “dezinformatsiya”; the original source may be French. A Cold War term coined by Soviet spy agencies, disinformation is intentionally false or misleading information spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences. (The definition is from the Wikipedia entry.) Disinformation is distinct from misinformation, which is unintentionally false.
Would you prefer to be more discreet when you talk about a person’s reckless disregard for facts? There’s a word for that, too: dissemble, “to hide or conceal behind a false appearance.” The word itself is hiding behind a false front; it was originally dissimule, from an Old French source. Its spelling changed around the 16th century, possibly in imitation of resemble.