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How do we refer to the act of resembling the truth, regardless if it is indeed the truth?

Some context: suppose you are watching a film and the story bears a striking resemblance to "real life". Perhaps you remember similar events from your own background or the story has a strong internal coherence. So you feel that the story could be true, even though you know it is fictional. Or, as the legend has it, when Michelangelo finished his "Pietà" and the sculpture seemed so "real" and "natural" to him, that he was amazed that the sculpture couldn't talk. One last example: you hear the promises of a politician in election campaign and he seems to be telling the truth, but of course you have no way to figure out, beforehand, if he is being honest or not.

The word "likelihood" comes to mind, but this word suggests some kind of numerical (even statistical) evaluation, which is akin to "probability". The word I am looking for describes the feeling you get, which leads to a subjective "binary" judgement (either it resembles the truth or not).

In Portuguese, such word is "verossimilhança" (from Latin verum, truth + similis, similar).

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Maybe truthiness? ;) –  Brendan Long Jun 3 '11 at 4:15
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5 Answers

up vote 24 down vote accepted

Verisimilitude. It's hardly used these days (even in Gilbert & Sullivan it was only for comic effect), but that's undoubtedly what it means.

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You beat me to it. Does it exactly fit the OP is after? –  compman Jun 2 '11 at 20:59
    
And the adjectival form "verisimilar" is even less known. –  Colin Fine Jun 3 '11 at 14:37
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To add to the others:

  • for objects, scenes, narratives that are either constructed or found, they can be described as realistic, and have realism or verisimilitude.
  • for people speaking, they can be sincere, and what they say can be plausible.

truthiness has a tendentious nuance to the latter (in the direction of disingenuous but not quite as deliberate).

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You might say, "Something has an air of verisimilitude about it," meaning you have the feeling that it's true or real. For an example in the negative:

No air of verisimilitude to this otherwise unconvincing narrative

Verisimilitude:

1.The quality of appearing to be true or real.
2. Something that has the appearance of being true or real.

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You might try plausible. From NOAD:

plausible |ˈplôzəbəl| adjective (of an argument or statement) seeming reasonable or probable : a plausible explanation | it seems plausible that one of two things may happen. See note at believable.

Or look at the usage notes under believable for a synonym:

THE RIGHT WORD

Believable is the most general of these terms, used to describe anything we accept as true, even in the absence of absolute proof (: a believable story about why she was late).

Credible also means worthy of belief or confidence and is often used interchangeably with believable, but it goes one step further: a credible excuse is one that is supported by known facts.

Creditable, often confused with credible, at one time meant worthy of belief but nowadays is used to mean respectable or decent, deserving of honor, reputation, or esteem (: leading a creditable life).

Something that is convincing is believable because it overcomes doubts or opposition (: a convincing performance), while something that is plausible may appear to be convincing or believable on the surface, but may not be so upon closer examination.

Valid means legally sound, just, or authoritative; a valid criticism seldom provokes opposition.

Cogent, on the other hand, means having the power to convince; a cogent argument is believable because of its clear, forceful, or incisive presentation.

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I think you're looking for realistic.

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