I believe that revisionism is in itself essentially a historical exercise. I'm looking for something that can succinctly describe the following scenarios where the "revisionism" is more immediate and possibly necessary. I'm open to both terminology and colourful idiomatic expressions.

John Doe is the leader of the revolutionary army. He is, however, hit in a drive-by shooting and dies instantly. Later on, his second-in-command informs the army that their leader didn't die instantly and actually survived for a few minutes. He states that John Doe's last words were, "Don't lose heart and keep on going without me. I'll be watching over you from the heavens.".

Quoting from here:

The miracle of the herring is an usual miracle ascribed to St. Thomas Aquinas, mainly out of desperation on the part of the Catholic Church because, although he was a great writer, he did little in the way of sainthood. Therefore, they created this miracle. The story goes that St. Thomas Aquinas was on his deathbed and wanted some herring, but there was no herring where he lived (the Mediterranean) so they gave him pilchards instead. When Thomas ate them, he said they were the best herring he ever tasted. The church claimed that the pilchards turned into herrings in his mouth.

(I'm not sure how much time passed between Aquinas' death and his canonisation. For the purpose of this question, let's assume that this interval was relatively brief.)

Edit: I'm concerned more with the act of revisionism to advance a cause than its end result or the subjects involved.

  • Idea starters. Maybe :-) : Gilding the Lily. Revisiting past events. Altered reality. Oct 4, 2012 at 16:19
  • @RussellMcMahon While I don't think any of them fit here, I was unaware of the idiom, gilding the lily. That's going to come in handy one day. I can tell :) Oct 4, 2012 at 16:32
  • Gilding the lily, however, means unnecessary beautification. Oct 4, 2012 at 17:14
  • 1
    Incidentally, it was 49years between his death and canonisation. That isn't the only miracle attested to him, but those with an interest in language should perhaps favour the argument tot miraculis, quot articulis ("as many miracles as there are in his writing").
    – Jon Hanna
    Jan 20, 2013 at 0:35

5 Answers 5


You can say that you mythify or mythicize someone (or something).

myth·i·fy [mith-uh-fahy] verb (used with object), myth·i·fied, myth·i·fy·ing. to create a myth about (a person, place, tradition, etc.); cause to become a myth. Origin: 1905–10; myth + -ify

mythicize /ˈmiTHəˌsīz/ verb [with object] turn into myth; interpret mythically.

  • Ta. Any expression that might additionally also suggest necessary mythification in order to further a cause? Oct 5, 2012 at 6:21
  • @coleopterist Any myth serves some purpose, so mythify, mythicize and your own mythologize all embrace a "cause". And in some sense we need "myths to live by" to get intellectual and emotional handles on just about everything, so there I think is enough "necessity" to meet your case. The process of myth-making, by the way, is mythopoesis. Oct 5, 2012 at 12:26

I would add heroification to the list. This is the act of sanitizing history and raising people to the level of heroes (or saints) by ignoring all their flaws and idealizing their positives. For a great read, see "Lies My History Teacher told me" by James Loewen.

  • Thanks. Do you have any links supporting the validity of this word? Oct 5, 2012 at 4:35
  • AFAIK it seems to have been coined by James Loewen. [link]criticalthink.info/Phil1301/lieshist.htm
    – djm
    Oct 5, 2012 at 15:37
  • the pdf of his book is available online. He defines heroification in the first chapter as a degenerative process that turns people into heroes.
    – djm
    Oct 5, 2012 at 15:44
  • re-reading your OP it sounds like you're looking for apologist or apparatchik [link]jargondatabase.com/Category/political/General-Politics-Jargon/… You know, someone who is hopelessly biased and trying to convert you. Apparatchik is usually in reference to a communist sympathizer but it can be used in other ways.
    – djm
    Oct 5, 2012 at 16:00
  • add provocateur to the above comment...
    – djm
    Oct 5, 2012 at 16:08

Negationism, a particular form of “illegitimate distortion of the historical record such that certain events appear in a more or less favourable light”, would be the best term for the revisionism your examples portray, if it weren't usually applied just to denial of historical crimes.

Retroactive continuity, a term used in discussing popular literature, will be applicable if we overlook the fiction-rather-than-non-fiction aspect of the examples. Retroactive continuity is “alteration of previously established facts in a fictional work ... to revise the in-story history to allow a course of events that would not have been possible in the story's original continuity [or for] resolution of errors in chronology”. The term retroactive history also is seen occasionally, referring to adjustment or reinterpretation of real-life facts to fit one spin or another.

Some related but not-quite-applicable terms are hindsight bias: “Hindsight bias, also known as the knew-it-all-along effect or creeping determinism, is the inclination to see events that have already occurred as being more predictable than they were before they took place” and confirmation bias:

Confirmation bias (also called confirmatory bias or myside bias) is a tendency of people to favor information that confirms their beliefs or hypotheses. People display this bias when they gather or remember information selectively, or when they interpret it in a biased way. The effect is stronger for emotionally charged issues and for deeply entrenched beliefs.

  • Thanks. The retroactive history thread also took me to postdiction aka retroactive clairvoyance which is also interesting. Although it sounds like a possibility, I don't see retroactive history actually being used anywhere noteworthy besides that link. Oct 5, 2012 at 6:20

What you describe isn't really revisionism at all, which denotes a (implicitly unacceptable) re-interpretation of the accepted (by the writer) account of doctrine.

Your stories are hagiography—literally "writings about saints", but normally extended to any sort of mythopoetic biography which imputes exemplary conduct or powers to the subject. The classic example in the US is the story about George Washington and the cherry tree, invented by Parson Weems for his hagiographical biography of Washington.

  • This is interesting and useful. I was not aware of this alternative meaning or its negative sense. However, the word appears to be restricted to biographies. Is there a variant or an expression that might be applicable everywhere? Oct 5, 2012 at 5:06
  • @coleopterist see my comment on MετάEd's response. Oct 5, 2012 at 12:27

I certainly agree with OP that his example doesn't illustrate revisionism - that's where the commonly-accepted assessment of some historical context is replaced by a new one that specifically contradicts what came before.

In OP's context, all that's happened is the church elaborated, the story. They've dressed it up, expanded/developed it, etc., to include a "miracle" that "proves" Aquinas was a saint.

I personally don't buy into Christiantity's miracles and saints, so I'd also say it's mythologising.

  • Thanks. I'm currently using "ex post facto embellishment" which sounds weird. I was hoping for something that would cover the use of "mythologising" in order to necessarily "further one's own cause". Oct 5, 2012 at 6:17
  • I put up elaborated first because that's probably non-contentious for everyone. Some Christians might object to mythologised on the grounds that this strongly implies there's no objective truth to the reported miracle. Oct 5, 2012 at 15:36

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