and Other Ephemera
Utica, Missouri, summer 1947.
Why "Verity"? (See Bibliography)
Sculpture isn't "nonpainting." The oboe isn't a "nonviolin." Why should an entire rich field of human endeavor—factual narrative—be defined by a negative? I wondered where the word "nonfiction" had come from. When I looked it up in the OED (the Oxford English Dictionary), I discovered to my surprise that it wasn't even in the main volumes but had been added in the Supplement, because the first known written reference in English ("non-fictional wares") occurred in a library journal in 1903. That is to say, "nonfiction" was evidently a term coined by a librarian trying to decide how to label all the works of narrative prose in her collection that weren't fiction, and rather than call them, say, "fact," had thoughtlessly exiled them into the Slough of Non. Which is nearly as absurd as shelving Gulliver's Travels under "Travels," as it was in my high-school library in Kansas City a thousand years ago.
So I decided to find a new and better name for the kind of writing I and many of my colleagues do (people like David Halberstam, John McPhee, Dava Sobel, Rebecca Solnit and for that matter Francis Bacon, Gilbert White and Montaigne)—writing that until recently hasn't been considered sufficiently respectable to be taught in schools of writing where poetry and the short story are the forms of art. (Not to beat a dead horse, as they say, but maybe it lacked respectability because it was called "non" fiction.) I browsed the dictionary and sorted through thesauri and eventually settled on the word "verity," from the Latin "veritas," meaning "truth." Verity and fiction: truth and fiction. That seemed to balance out nicely.
What do you write? I write verity.
I'm a novelist; what are you? I'm a veritist; what's it to you?
Fictional, fictionally: veritable, veritably.
Words enter the dictionary when they appear with sufficient frequency in print to demonstrate acceptance. If you like "verity," use it.
Psst! Want some verity? Pass it around.