Good Words: Authentic

Authentic (adj.): Most dictionaries will tell you that this word basically means “real, not copied; true.” Examples of this usage include “an authentic Van Gogh painting” and “an authentic account of the war, written by a survivor.” English teachers sometimes use the word to mean that something was created in English, by English speakers, for English speakers, and not created just for a textbook.

However, when people talk, they usually use it in reference to a culture. For example:

“Authentic Chinese food is hard to find in Arkansas. If it’s covered in a bright pink sauce and there are no vegetables, it’s not authentic Chinese food!”
“My friend, Nao, said that most of the costumes in Memoirs of a Geisha were not authentic at all. The dances weren’t authentic, either. The director just made everything up!”
“Where could I find some authentic Vietnamese silk dresses?”
“Sometimes I cook a stew that I call ‘fake feijoada,’ because it’s not an authentic version of the famous Brazilian dish.”
“My favorite Japanese restaurant has a Japanese chef and serves totally authentic Japanese food, but they mix different kinds of dishes on the menu. That part might not be authentic, but I don’t care because the food is so good!”

In these examples, the word “authentic” refers to whether something fits the expectations of the culture it is supposed to be from. Does most Arkansas Chinese food look and taste like Chinese food from China? Do the costumes look like something a Japanese person from that time would wear? Are the dances real geisha dances? Are the dresses made in the real Vietnamese style? Is my stew the same as Brazilian feijoada? Is my favorite restaurant exactly like a Japanese restaurant in Japan?

Basically, it’s whether something looks like or is done the same way as the original (in the culture that the thing is supposed to be from).

It’s a useful word in conversation, especially if you’re homesick (“I miss authentic ____!”) or if you want to introduce a new friend to something (“Have you ever tried authentic ____?”). Or, for that matter, if you want to warn someone about something (“Don’t go there! They don’t have authentic _____”).

I hope you find a way to use this word soon!

Noun: authenticity.
Opposite: inauthentic. (In conversation, people usually say “not authentic” instead.)

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