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There are many questions (as of now) using the words "authentic" to ask a question, however I was told that my question is unclear because of it.

What is the correct usage of the word "authentic"?

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Let's note that there is a dictionary definition for this word:

  1. not false or copied; genuine; real:
    an authentic antique.
  2. having the origin supported by unquestionable evidence; authenticated; verified:
    an authentic document of the Middle Ages; an authentic work of the old master.
  3. entitled to acceptance or belief because of agreement with known facts or experience; reliable; trustworthy:
    an authentic report on poverty in Africa.

Clearly these three meanings require different answers, and apply differently based on what is claimed to be genuine. Questioners need to be aware of this fact and use this word when it has a unique meaning.

In particular, when it is applied to a video or a photo, it seems to ask many different conflated things. The intentions are fine, but the overloading the word's meaning is not.

Is this video staged?

The word authentic is used to ask whether a video is not staged. It is necessary to specify what in the video is supposed to be staged. A video can be a genuine video, but there could be tricks being performed, or the whole video could be fake. These are different claims. Don't use "authentic" in this way.

  • Bad: Is this video of a flying saucer authentic?
  • Good: Was this video of a flying saucer staged?
  • Bad: Is this video of a kung-fu feat authentic?
  • Good: Is this kung-fu feat an act?

Non-original videos

"Authentic" is also used to ask whether an openly non-original video (e.g. where subtitles are added) has remained true to its origin. This is not a question of a factual nature, so simply avoid this usage.

  • Bad: Does this video represent Carl Sagan in an authentic manner?

Is this video the original?

"Authentic" could also mean to ask whether a video is an original copy. This actually is the word's primary meaning but it's rarely used in this fashion. In any case the word "original" also works and is unambiguous.

  • Bad: Is this video with subliminal messages authentic?
  • Good: Does the original version of this video contain subliminal messages?

Is this picture staged?

"Authentic" is used to ask whether an image is genuine. It's much better to ask whether it was faked (not all not-genuine photos are faked), or if it was set-up.

  • Bad: Is this picture of a flying saucer authentic?
  • Good: Was this picture of a flying saucer staged?
  • Good: Was this picture of a flying saucer digitally faked?

Is the written claim in this picture correct?

The word "authentic" is used to ask whether a claim written inside a picture is true. It is much better to simply ask whether the claim is true.

  • Bad: Is this Facebook meme picture authentic?
  • Good: Is the claim contained in this picture verified by evidence?

Is this picture implying a claim authentic?

The word "authentic" can also be abused to ask about "implied" claims in pictures. We don't allow such "implied" claims, so simply avoid this kind of questions.

  • Bad: Is this picture of workers having lunch on a suspended iron bar authentic?

Other correct usages

It is correct to use the word when asking about a relic of archaeological nature, or about historical evidence. In this context usage of the word is cromulent.

  • Good: Is the shroud of Turin authentic?

It is also fine to use the word when asking whether the claim is the authorship of something.

  • Is this signature authentic?
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    Please supply the adjective[s] you'd prefer to see instead, for each use case. – ChrisW May 14 '15 at 11:04
  • @ChrisW I don't think listing adjectives is appropriate. The problem is that "authentic" is a lazy way of formulating a question. I'll give examples. – Sklivvz May 14 '15 at 12:17
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    I think what we "question askers" mean by authentic is 'real' and 'not fake'; which refers to the first definition you provided. – George Chalhoub May 14 '15 at 19:03
  • @georgechalhoub are you sure that you know what "we" mean when we ask a question? You only asked 24 questions... – Sklivvz May 14 '15 at 19:10
  • Quality over quantity :) – George Chalhoub May 15 '15 at 0:00
  • Suggested "Good" version: "Are the workers having lunch on a suspended iron bar dozens of stories above the nearest ground?". – Andrew Grimm May 15 '15 at 0:36
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    I'm not a fan of "digitally altered" (or equivalently "photoshopped"). Photographers (including myself) routinely crop, adjust the white-balance and exposure, and add watermarks and titles, without altering what the photo shows. If the photo is uploaded to Facebook, it does its own digital alterations. Pretty much all photos on the web have been digitally altered - but that isn't what people mean. – Oddthinking May 16 '15 at 13:46
  • @Oddthinking i believe the unambiguous word for that is "digitally corrected". When people say "'shopped" they certainly do not mean simply corrected. Does any more precise term come to mind? – Sklivvz May 16 '15 at 16:50
  • Does any more precise term come to mind? -- How about 'faked' or 'simulated': "Was this picture of a flying saucer digitally faked or simulated?" – ChrisW May 24 '15 at 0:52

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