Words at Work

KATHY McINTOSH: There are many words for ‘lie’

Boise author, speaker and freelance editor. Owner of A Well-Placed Word.December 3, 2013 

When people ask me why I write fiction, I tell them it’s because I love to lie. Now, is that the truth? “Indeed, it is,” she said, tongue-in-cheek.

Tongue-in-cheek is an adjective meaning characterized by insincerity, irony or whimsical exaggeration. Some of my sources said the ironic usage originates with the idea of suppressed mirth — biting one’s tongue to prevent an outburst of laughter. It originally was meant to express distaste or even disgust. But now it means to pull a leg or stretch the truth.

At any rate, there are many synonyms for the word lie — more, perhaps, than for truth.

As I frequently do, I have used Daily Writing Tips (www.dailywritingtips.com) as a key resource for this article. I cannot tell a lie.

• Instead of proceeding alphabetically, let’s begin with fiction, an invented story or statement. Little deceptions or conceits often exist in fiction. They aren’t actual lies, but rather fanciful concoctions or inventions.

• A fable is a kind of fiction but is generally made up to make an edifying or cautionary point.

• A fabulist is someone who tells fables but can also be a teller of falsehoods.

• Falsehoods are untrue statements, or lies. Older dictionaries also defined falsehood as treachery.

• When something is false, it may be a counterfeit or simply lacking in truth.

• Fabricate means to create or make up and can also mean to make up in order to deceive. Fabrication was a word used often in my home, when I told a fib.

• Fibs are inconsequential lies, similar to white lies, diplomatic or well-intentioned untruths.

• Exaggeration and equivocation are considered by some to be lies and by others (perhaps fiction writers and fabulists) to be simply an interpretation that differs somewhat from reality. I would equate these with prevarication, the act of straddling or straying from the truth.

• An untruth is another deviation from the truth, a half-truth, a partial deviation that has some basis in truth but is meant to deceive. These are similar to distortions.

• Humbugs, taradiddles, whoppers and jive are generally considered to be lies cloaked in nonsense and perhaps less harmful than say, libel or slander.

• Libel is a written, printed or pictorial statement that damages a person by defaming his character or reputation. Slander is the utterance of such statements. I would venture that neither libel nor slander need necessarily be false to be legally classified as libel or slander, but I leave that to the lawyers. Perjury is a lie presented under oath.

• I learned yet another new word in my research: obliquity. It stems from oblique and means obscurity or indirectness in conduct or verbal expression, which of course is another way to lie.

• A mendacious person strays from the truth, possibly tossing out fallacies, canards and bluffs with abandon. A fallacy is a false notion or an argument based on a false notion. A canard is a deliberately misleading false story. The first definition of bluff in my “American Heritage Dictionary” is to mislead, deceive or hoodwink. That gives us another great word for lie: hoodwink. Its archaic definition was to blindfold.

The next time you have cause to doubt someone’s veracity, I hope you now have a few more words in your vocabulary to express those doubts.


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