VERISIMILITUDE [ver-uh-si-MIL-i-tood]: having the appearance of truth or reality


It is amazing to look at pieces of art which are painted in the realistic mode.   It is almost impossible to distinguish them from photography at times.   The goose painting I have used as today’s illustration is a perfect example.  When I first saw it I assumed it was a photo.  But Guido Daniele, the Italian artist, has an uncanny ability to depict realism in art.  It is worth looking at his website to see the Handart he has created, in which human  hands are painted in configurations that depict animals.   He is a master of the genre.  I would love to see this painting in person. *

The word which comes to mind for me in writing about this phenomenon is verisimilitude, a term which is not restricted to visual art, but which is, perhaps, best demonstrated by it.  It is a Latin word, verisimilitudo, which is a portmanteau of the word segments  veri (meaning truth) and similitudo (meaning similar.)  It became common in Latin in the 17th century.

The use of verisimilitude is not restricted to the visual arts, however.  It is also used commonly to define words, or combinations of words which are meant (intentionally or unintentionally) to replicate something which is true or factual.  That may be stated without doing research to determine the veracity of the statement.

When a politician, for instance, says something like this, pay attention:

My opponent is a proven liar, having been found guilty of perjury on several occasions.”

It sounds accurate, and, given the shady backgrounds of some candidates for office, seems likely.   But upon investigation it may turn out that the shady candidate was “charged” with perjury, but not found guilty.  The person quoted has stretched the truth, and if the comment is delivered the night before the election, there is no chance for it to be verified before the ballots are cast.   It’s a common political trick.   When it is “corrected” the day after the election, it’s too late to make a difference.

Out of the tradition of such devious  verisimilitude, a new profession has arisen which is called fact-checking.   It is a common feature in newspapers and on public media these days.   Professionals with (seemingly) no axe to grind check the comment and declare it to be “accurate/somewhat accurate/somewhat untruthful/Pants on Fire.”

However, given the prominence of personal media these days, it is possible to scuttle the accusation prior to the election, with a sizable percentage of voters relying upon social media for news .   In some demographic categories, it is believed that a larger percentage use social media than print media, potentially nullifying the effect of the verisimilitude.

But it is not always in devious or less-than-honest manners that verisimilitude is employed in literature.   The author may be attempting to depict reality while intentionally relying upon techniques which bend or reconstruct history for literary purposes.  It is the basis for stand-up comedy, when you stop to think about it.  There is no plan to deceive the reader in a criminal way, but simply to engage the reader’s (or audience member’s)  imagination in a creative departure from recorded history.   It can be a dangerous ploy if not carefully crafted.  But, as in art, it can be a clever and awe-inspiring segment of a piece.


Art Credit:  Guido Daniele

*(Now…the surprise…this is one of those Handart paintings.   What you see is a hand painted to depict a goose!)

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