What's a "fact" anyway?

After New Jersey native and President Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway asserted on NBC's Meet the Press Sunday that administration spokesman Sean Spicer had presented "alternative facts" to media coverage saying Trump's inaugural crowds were dwarfed by President Obama's, the Twitterverse wend wild.

So it might not be surprising that Merriam Webster reports searches for the definition of "fact" (which it says is (“a piece of information presented as having objective reality”) spiked dramatically on Sunday.

"You're saying it's a falsehood, and Sean Spicer, our press secretary is giving alternative facts to that," Conway told NBC's Churck Todd.

"Wait a minute, alternative facts? Alternative facts — four of the five facts he uttered, the one that he got right was Zeke Miller, four of the five facts he uttered are not true. Alternative facts are not facts — they're falsehoods," Todd told her.

The social media storm began after Spicer, in the first press conference of Trump's presidency, said the administration would "hold the press accountable" for misleading reports.

"This was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period, both in-person and around the globe," Spicer claimed. He refuted news reports showing several photos taken of the National Mall on Friday. Major news agencies have stood by their estimates that the crowd was a fraction of that seen for President Barack Obama’s 2009 inauguration.

The response grew after Todd confronted Kelly, asking why Spicer, in his first press conference, would peddle "falsehoods" She accused Todd of laughing at her and said he symbolizes how Trump has been treated by the media.

Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who worked for president George W. Bush, said afterward press secretaries have to walk a fine line between reflecting the thinking and wishes of the president while trying to help the people covering him do their jobs.

Fleischer said he never knowingly delivered false information to the press while at the White House.

"You can't do that," he said. "It will shorten your career."

According to Merriam-Webster, the NBC exchange with Conway was "fraught with epistemological tension."

"In contemporary use, fact is generally understood to refer to something with actual existence, or presented as having objective reality," it said in a piece about the spike in interest about the word "fact."

It continued:

There are three obsolete senses of fact in English. Two of these senses are no longer used:

a wrong or unlawful deed

a meritorious or valorous deed

an action in general

Fact meaning "a wrong or unlawful deed" is rare, but is still used in the phrase "after the fact."

— Includes reporting by the Associated Press

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