Fabrication – something made of metal or lies?



If you do a Google image-search on the word fabrication, you’ll most likely see metal, sparks, and men in masks. But if someone says the word fabrication to you, your brain-image search will probably yield a different crop of results, involving tales, untruths, or the most recent lying so-and-so you’ve encountered. Those fabrications are just harder to capture in jpeg form.

Recently talking to my friend Lynn, I noticed that she talked of “fabricating” this structure or that it was more expensive to “fabricate” that design. Why didn’t she just say “make”?, I asked. It’s because she works in the world of architecture, where fabrication doesn’t necessarily mean a pack of lies. It’s probably fair to say that the most common form of fabrication is of a story or tale, but its most innocent, prosaic and historical form is of the metal (or now digital) variety, especially in an architectural setting. How strange that we should dismiss anything known to us to be fabricated, and yet we might jump at the chance of acquiring something pre-fabricated.

According to the OED, fabricate is a transitive verb meaning 1) to construct or manufacture, esp. from prepared components; 2) to invent or concoct (a story, evidence, etc.); or 3) to forge (a document). The word dates back to the mid-15th century, when it meant simply “to fashion, make, or build,” from the Latin fabricatus or fabricare, a verb with the same definition. According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, it took a few centuries for the verb to acquire a new and more sinister meaning — with its mendacious use being recorded in print in the second part of the 18th century.

How did a word that had (and still has) such a sturdy, no-nonsense meaning in its literal sense come to acquire the deceit inherent in its figurative sense? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer, but I would be very curious to know if there are any theories or answers to this question.


1 thought on “Fabrication – something made of metal or lies?

  1. Barrie England

    The earliest citation in the online OED of ‘fabricate’ in the sense ‘To form (semi-finished metal stock or other manufacturing material) into the shape required for a finished product’ is as recent as 1926. The earliest citation for the verb at all is from 1598, when it had the meaning, now rare, according to the OED, of ‘To make anything that requires skill; to construct, manufacture.’

    The earliest citation for the deceitful sense is from 1779: ‘The whole story was fabricated.’ ‘Fabrication’ in this sense comes just 21 years later. I suppose it’s not really such a huge jump from transforming components into a finished article to concocting an account in which the bare facts are transformed into something more suited to the speaker’s or writer’s purpose.


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