Irregardless Magazine

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Etymology of ‘Bullshit’ and ‘Factoid’

Have you ever wondered how male bovine excrement became synonymous with boldfaced nonsense? Many would say, ‘Well, because it smells’. But why bulls in particular? Are bull pies a particularly smelly brand of animal waste?

As it happens, bull, as a synonym for ‘deceitful foolishness’, dates all the way back to Middle English, and apparently comes from the Old French word bole, meaning ‘deception, trick, scheming, intrigue’.

It’s also important to make the distinction between bull and lies. Harry Frankfurt, the foremost academic on the subject of bullshit, says that lies must know the truth in order to actively conceal it, but bullshit doesn’t care what the truth is.

Another fun fact: the word factoid is synonymous with bullshit. Though people often use it to mean ‘a true but insignificant statement’, the more precise word is actually factlet. Norman Mailer coined factoid in the 1970s to mean ‘resembling truth while not necessarily being true’ (referring, of course, to tabloid ‘news’). The suffix -oid meaning ‘having the quality of, or relating to’. In essence, it’s all bullshit.