It’s no secret that I’m a fan of trivia. When I was younger my family would sit around doing the quiz in the paper, my father graciously letting us answer the easier ones. I would always prefer Trivial Pursuit over Monopoly. Heck, I even met my partner at Pub Trivia.
I always like it when someone has a small nugget of information to share on a topic, and I’ve always referred to them as ‘factoids’ - little facts with no context. I was called up for this usage by a friend of mine. Apparently the definition of ‘factoid’ is actually when something sounds like a fact, but isn’t; Marilyn Munroe had six toes, NASA spent a gazillion dollars on space pens or the Chevy Nova not selling in Latin America. The earliest citation is in Norman Mailer’s 1973 book Marilyn.
This is the sense given in the Oxford English Dictionary, but as the word has exploded in popularity in the last 20 years (check out this n-gram) I’m clearly not the only one who has a slightly different understanding of the word. As this website notes, -oid is added to a word when it’s like something, but not exactly like it; humanoids are somewhat like humans, a planetoid is like a planet and steroids are like sterols. But this isn’t a very productive suffix and it isn’t always clear when it is being used. Therefore most people (me included) interpret it as a diminutive ‘little fact.’ Indeed, it’s one of the entries in Wiktionary.
Ah, what’s a Loller to do? (A Loller, incidentally, is one addicted to writing “lol.” I discovered this factoid while checking on Hilary Mantel’s use of the phrase in her novel Wolf Hall, where “Lollers” are burned at the stake.
It will be interesting to see if my use of factoidwill change now that I know it has another (older and more etymologically sensible) sense.