As a professional writer, I have a rather intimate relationship with words. I am deeply passionate about the power of language, particularly when it comes to storytelling. Naturally, I can’t possibly know everything (and I never will), but that won’t stop me from trying. And that’s how I happened to come across “apocryphal” the other day.

First, a little bit of context.

How many words do you think are in the English language? Estimates vary considerably, as there is no official count to be found anywhere. Merriam-Webster puts the number somewhere around one million and that includes scientific terms that average people will never use and “borrowed” words like teriyaki. Either way, that’s a lot.

Now, how many words do you think comprise the average person’s vocabulary? We use a lot, right? As it turns out, the typical person really only uses about 5,000 words when speaking and about 10,000 words when writing. That means we are, on average, only using somewhere between 0.5% and 1.0% of the words freely available to us.

Words are incredibly powerful tools and it pays to have more tools at your disposal. It makes for more compelling stories and more accurate descriptions.

Which leads us to today’s blog post. When I reviewed the new Amazon Echo ($100) late last year, I had to familiarize myself with Alexa and what it could do. The smart assistant eventually migrated its way over to the Sonos One smart speaker ($199) earlier this year too.

One of the main features that I use (almost) every day is the Flash Briefing. These are curated segments, like mini podcasts, from sources like The Daily Show and Engadget, as well as local news and weather. One segment that I choose to include is the Word of the Day. And one day, the word highlighted as apocryphal.

Apocryphal: (of a story or statement) of doubtful authenticity, although widely circulated as being true

“Truthiness” is a term that I thought was coined by Stephen Colbert during his time at The Colbert Report, but the word actually appears on both and Oxford Living Dictionaries. Go figure. “Truthiness” has since paved the way for related terms like “post-truth” and more infamously “fake news” (or #fakenews, if you prefer).

To this end, “apocryphal” falls into a similar kind of scope, one that is increasingly troubling in this age of social media. It’s become far too easy to fall into the confines of an echo chamber, only surrounding yourself by people who think the same way you do. Almost no one ever fact checks the stories they see posted on Twitter and Facebook. They just take them at face value and share them with their friends.

What ends up happening is that a story starts to feel like it’s true, because it’s being circulated so widely. We get all sorts of apocryphal political stories in particular these days, as you’ve surely noticed. The origin of these stories is oftentimes unclear, and then we just assume they’re accurate because everyone says they are. This is dangerous territory indeed.

And this leads us all the way back to the beginning again. Words are incredibly powerful tools and it’s helpful when you’ve got more tools at your disposal to address just about any possible situation. But words can also be used to mislead and deceive. With great power comes great responsibility.