“Fake News”: A (short) Genealogy

Noun first: ‘fakes’ before ‘fake news’

In Russian, there are two terms initially to look for: there is фейк ньюс, which is more or less simply a transliteration of ‘fake news’ as best the Russian alphabet permits, and second фейковые новости, which is more of a translation, with Russian declension on the adjective ‘fake’ and the Russian word for news. But more fundamentally there’s a noun, фейк (plural: фейки). It is this noun for, I think, that marks the introduction of ‘fake’-discourse in Russian and Ukrainian political discourse.

The least racist wikipedia image for ‘propaganda’, licence

When did the adjective come?

I think there’s accordingly pretty solid reason to think that the nominal form, where ‘fake’ is a noun that could apply to stories, videos, pictures, accounts, and so on, comes first. A question is when that use transformed into the adjectival use we see in фейк ньюс and фейковые новости, and thence — if there is indeed a single cross-linguistic process — into ‘fake news’.

Does any of this actually matter?

You might be a bit non-plussed at this amateur etymologising. Does it matter when a particular idiom was introduced? In fact, one can go further. Some philosopher, such as Josh Habgood-Coote, think we shouldn’t take about ‘fake news’ altogether; Jason Stanley, perhaps the leading philosopher of political rhetoric, thinks that ‘fake news’ is simply propaganda relabelled. (The literature on fake news in philosophy is bizarrely gigantic; see here for a response to Habgood-Coote)

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Matthew McKeever

Matthew McKeever

Novella "Coming From Nothing" at @zer0books (bitly.com/cfnextract). Academic philosophy at: http://mipmckeever.weebly.com/