This was sent to me by my two Socialist Chums. 👿 Ira & Neill, who thought that I should give it an airing.
I did check as I felt sure that PiedType would have jumped right onto this; however, it appears she missed it or left it for me.
It appeared in the New Yorker and is right on the money.
I cut and pasted, as you can tell and take no credited for anything, except the heading, should anyone think of something better I suggest you keep it to yourself 😈
Never pass up a teaching moment.
Recently, some of my friends have spoken of “alternate facts,” and others of “alternative facts.”
There is traditionally a difference between the adjectives “alternate” and “alternative.” “Alternate,” as in, say, “alternate fact checker,” refers to a fact checker who takes turns with another fact checker: six months on, six months off. Think of the verb “to alternate”: “to perform by turns or in succession.”
“Alternative fact checker” would be a fact checker who was brought in instead of another fact checker. He or she would represent a choice. An alternative fact checker might wear a nose ring or a funky hat, or have special knowledge of a foreign culture, but the main thing is that he or she would get the job done.
I used to be a stickler for this point of usage, always changing “alternate route” to “alternative route,” although the shorter version is more often seen on road signs (“USE ALTERNATE ROUTE”). A writer of fantasy or science fiction might refer to an “alternate reality” (or parallel universe), and I would routinely change it to “alternative reality.” Not long ago, a writer objected to this, on the ground that “alternate reality” is common usage, and I caved. To paraphrase Noah Webster, there is no fighting common usage.
This week’s issue contains a piece by Raffi Khatchadourian about creating the technology for movies that allow a viewer to choose what a character does, thus altering the outcome of the story. It uses the phrases “alternate reality” and “alternate world.” In fact, the piece is titled “Alternate Endings.”
Language authorities would disapprove. How were we to know that the phrase “alternative facts” would come under such scrutiny over the weekend?
To clarify, if such a thing is possible: according to Webster’s, a fact is “something that has actual existence.” “Alternate facts” would refer to two facts in rotation with each other. They would still be facts. “Alternative facts” do not share that quality. They do not have actual existence. Alternative facts are delusions.
At least Kellyanne Conway got the usage right.
Mary Norris began working at The New Yorker in 1978, and has been a query proofreader at the magazine since 1993. Her book, “Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen” (Norton), is now available in paperback.