As one who holds a Yale University degree, the term lux et veritas is branded into my forehead. Everywhere you turn on the New Haven campus the term screams out to you. It is the motto of the university, calling the faculty and students to seek lux (light) and veritas (truth.) In my memory, the search for those qualities is not always a cake walk. Light and truth come at a price, frequently the wrenching pain of having to give up long-held beliefs which just plain lack veracity.
Veritable, the subject for today’s posting is a word which stems from veritas, the Latin word for truth. It is a word used frequently in our language … and it is a word that is frequently used inappropriately.
- How many times have you heard someone say, he is a veritable genius, only to discover that “he” is, indeed smart, but with many limitations?
- How frequently does someone refer to an incident as a veritable disaster, only to discover that there is, indeed, some damage from the incident, but it is reparable and capable of being restored?
- How often we read in a newspaper account of someone who is a veritable God-send, only to discover that “he” is … in reality … only a mediocre candidate.
It’s easy to use a word like veritable to make a statement seem more dramatic and more believable. But, too frequently, it is the wrong word to be using. Veritable means that something has been verified (another derivative from veritas) and authenticated to be without doubt or without reservation.
Just because something appears to be the truth, or seems like it’s truthful doesn’t necessarity mean that it is veritably the case. Advertising frequently asserts that this product is “the world’s greatest discovery” in the field of dish liquid or stain removal. Sounds good, but it’s really only one more example in a field of okay, but not great, products.
Veritable is a word that stems from testing, vetting, and research. The Salk vaccine was a veritable game-changer in the world of polio. When introduced it produced unbelievable results in stemming the disease, which, for decades was almost extinct. To use the word veritable to describe it was based upon research, testing, close observation by experts, and proven results.
Herman Cain, however, did not turn out to be the excitedly-touted, veritable answer to the prayer that many had for a Republican candidate who would transform the economy and restore old-fashioned American values. To have been that would have required deeper research and proper vetting to discover that his flaws prevented him from being the voice for America he desired to be.
And the veritable victory for George W. Bush in the 2004 Florida primaries required a suspension of belief in the veracity of the numbers reported and the circumstances that prevailed in the voting districts, regardless of the decision of the United States Supreme Court. Veritable is not an “almost” word. It is definitive and requires proof.
Speech-making and marketing require excitement and hyperbole which sometimes stretches the truth. But to use the word veritable requires more. It depends upon a standard of truth that is costly and time-consuming. The wait, however, for a veritable conclusion is well worth it.
Photo Credit: Kevin Kermes