The following extract from "en.oxforddictionaries.com" comments about the meaning and origin of the expression "post-truth politics".

Post-truth Politics:

  • After much discussion, debate, and research, the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016 is post-truth – an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.


  • The compound word post-truth exemplifies an expansion in the meaning of the prefix post- that has become increasingly prominent in recent years. Rather than simply referring to the time after a specified situation or event – as in post-war or post-match – the prefix in post-truth has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’. This nuance seems to have originated in the mid-20th century, in formations such as post-national (1945) and post-racial (1971).

The ODO and most main dictionaries define the meaning of the prefix post- as:

  • After in time or order: ‘post-date’ ‘post-operative’

The usage of post- in "post-truth politics" appears to be convey a different nuance, it seems to suggest something opposite to real fact rather than post real facts. The examples given above, post-national post-racial still convey a notion of time in my opinion.

It is clearly a usage that has become idiomatic, but is it semantically correct? Are there other previous usage examples which are close in meaning to post- as used in post-truth?

  • I have heard other terms constructed similarly, but can't recall any just now. (Though perhaps you could argue that "post-modern" fits this mold.)
    – Hot Licks
    Nov 17, 2016 at 12:59
  • 3
    Post-modern & post-industrial both work. Post-(the era characterized by truth), Post-(the artistic movement termed 'modern' when it was first introduced), Post-(the economy that is characterized by most people being involved in industrial production)
    – John Feltz
    Nov 17, 2016 at 19:44
  • There is a Stephen Colbert, the host of The Late Show, who says he invented the term truthiness, from which post-truth is (supposedly) derived. It is a satirical show, but it contains elements of truth.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 21, 2016 at 17:24

4 Answers 4


Below is the link to my article fron The New Indian Express on How to use the Oxford Dictionaries Word of 2016?

  • If you are a linguaphile, by now you must have known the Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year 2016. Oxford Dictionaries (OD) has announced post-truth as its 2016 international Word of the Year. It states the use of the word has increased by approximately 2,000% over its usage in 2015.

  • What does post-truth mean? In many compound words prefixed with ‘post’, the prefix has these meanings: after, later, and subsequent to. The examples of such words are: postmortem, post-conflict and post-lunch. If you try to guess the meaning of post-truth based on your knowledge of etymology, your guess won’t be correct because the prefix in post-truth has a nuance.

  • The term, as an adjective, “relates to or denotes circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. Here the prefix has a meaning more like ‘belonging to a time in which the specified concept has become unimportant or irrelevant’.

  • In many election campaigns, misinformation and disinformation have victory over information. Facts are no longer considered important in campaigns characterised by post-truth situation. People, manipulated by emotional appeals, treat misinformation and disinformation as information. Recall two recent events — the Brexit and the Trump campaigns. In both the campaigns, emotional appeals and feelings, and not facts (truth), were the factors for Britain leaving the European Union and the triumph of Trump.

  • Evidence-based facts and analysis that Brexit will not be beneficial to the country did not convince fifty-two per cent of the voters in the UK. As Sir John Major has said, the voters were bamboozled by ‘a whole galaxy of inaccurate and frankly untrue information’. It was a post-truth campaign. Take the recent US Presidential campaign by Donald Trump. Though about seventy percent of the statements he made during the election campaign were rated false (by PolitiFact), which was nearly three times the falsity score of Hillary Clinton, Trump was considered more honest and trustworthy than Clinton.

  • It is a classical example of post-truth politics. The nouns that collocate with post-truth are: politicians, era, age, politics, journalism, journalists, brigade, presidency, etc. Examples: post-truth politicians, post-truth era, post-truth journalists, and post-truth brigade. Here are examples of how the word is used in sentences: Mr Trump has been described as the leading exponent of post-truth politics — a reliance on assertions that “feel true” but have no basis in fact.

  • Post-truth politicians along with post-truth journalists and post-truth campaigners are responsible for creating post-truth voters. In the post-truth age, using euphemisms is a trend to convey that someone is a liar. He misinformed the public.

  • If you wish to leave an email address for people to contact you at, it's best to register and leave the information in your profile. Nov 23, 2016 at 10:27
  • The "answer" is actually worth reading, it explains why and how the prefix post is used in post-truth and its meaning. +1
    – Mari-Lou A
    Nov 30, 2016 at 2:38

The use of 'post' assumes a time period about which something is 'after'. The phrase 'post-truth politics' implicitly suggests that there is a period of time of 'truth politics' and that 'post' this is after the implied truth politics period of time.

So it is somewhat idiomatic (meaning not constructible directly from the stand alone meanings of constituents) if what you are concerned about is if the phrase is attempting to say 'after' '(timeless) truth'. But that is a hyper-literal interpretation.

Your examples of post-national and post-racial, and also antebellum (before the war) are similar (contrary to your expectation) in that the time preposition (post or ante) modifies something that is not time based. The usage always implies something about the time in which the non-time subject occurs. So a hyper-correct mechanism for extracting meaning here (some kind of NLP) would have to account for the implication. But humans have no problem with it.

  • 1
    The meaning of post-truth doesn't actually suggest a period of true politics which no longer is, from the definitions given it is politics that are no longer based on facts, which are non necessarily true.
    – user66974
    Nov 17, 2016 at 13:10
  • I would say that "post-truth politics" means politics of the era that is after the era of truth, rather than after the era of "truth politics" -- to mean that you'd normally want more hyphens: "post-truth-politics". Nov 17, 2016 at 15:35
  • @curiousdannii Sure.
    – Mitch
    Nov 17, 2016 at 16:07

The OED did not refer to "post truth politics," but simply to "post truth" -- as a word/term whose use has increased by 2000% since 2015. And although Mitch's (time/past:good) and Albert's (relevance/importance:better) takes/observations are both literally correct, it seems to me that the use of "post" to modify "truth" is more akin to the usage: "post modernism", which denies the existence (or deflates the meaning) of capital T "truth", or of a uniquely correct/accurate meta narrative.

That is, we are in the presence of capital R Relativism, or a neo pragmatism ala the philosopher Richard Rorty, who had been lobbying for a "post-truth" world for many decades -- see, inter alia, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, or Contingency, Irony and Solidarity -- when he died in 2007.

That he (and David Foster Wallace, I might add) died before experiencing/witnessing, and having the opportunity to comment on, the "meta" obsessed "post truth" world we now live in are two of the greatest intellectual tragedies/losses (in the study of intellectual history or history of ideas ) of this (nascent) century.


I personally think the phrase 'post-factual politics' (which is synonymous but used less frequently) is more representative of the idea the phrase is trying to convey. It's not the concept of telling the truth which politicians have abandoned - you could argue that happened long ago! - it's the use of emotive appeals and emotive language rather than fact-based policy details to appeal to potential voters.

To answer your question, it does seem to me that the prefix 'post-' is being used somewhat incorrectly. It's being used to create a compound adjective 'post-truth' which, as you say, doesn't seem to make sense. Truth is not a concept which exists relative to time; how can something happen after it?

Conceptually, I think the phrase tries to identify an a idea - Truth Politics, where policy was more important than appeals to emotion - which was commonplace for a particular period of time. 'Post-(Truth Politics)', then, is the era after that political idea subsided to make way for the kind of displays we've seen recently.

  • But it doesn't mean "post-[truth politics]", it means "[post-truth] politics". Nov 17, 2016 at 15:37
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    @curiousdannii In a purely literal sense, sure. But in a purely literal sense the phrase is gibberish.
    – Michael
    Nov 17, 2016 at 17:28

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