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QUOTES ABOUT LIES, HALF TRUTHS AND TRUTH
Collected by Eva Smith-Carroll
Updated March 24, 2017

And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Bible, King James Version. John 8:32. Link to Bible Gateway verses about truth.

Baldfaced lie. Also boldfaced and barefaced. (Note about spelling, online sources differ on hyphen or no hyphen. In the real world, Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fourth Edition, says no hyphen.) "How dare you try to falsify my person? You are discovered in a barefaced lie, and now want to bully it out." From Life; or, The adventures of William Ramble Esq. by John Trusler, 1793.From World Wide Words.

There is often confusion about which word, bald or bold, is the correct one in this particular idiom. But fret no more, we now have the definitive answer: They’re both acceptable. Most sources agree that the original expression, coined in the late 1600s, was actually barefaced lie. At that time, bare meant brazen or bold. At that time in history, almost all men sported a full set of whiskers, and it was considered quite daring or even audacious for a male to be clean-shaven, or barefaced. Eventually, the word for “hairless” went from bare to bald, and so did the description of a blatant fib. Mental_floss

Big lie. “A falsehood of such magnitude and audacity that it is bound to have an effect on public opinion even if it is not given credence by a majority; a propaganda technique identified with Adolf Hitler.” From Safire’s New Political Dictionary by William Safire (Random House, New York, 1993), Page 53.

The size of the lie is a definite factor in causing it to be believed, for the vast masses of the nation are in the depths of their hearts more easily deceived than they are consciously and intentionally bad. The primitive simplicity of their minds renders them a more easy prey to a big lie than a small one, for they themselves often tell little lies but would be ashamed to tell a big one. Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler.

Economical with the truth. “It contains a misleading impression, not a lie. It was being economical with the truth.” Robert Armstrong, head of the British civil service. Daily Telegraph, 19 Nov 1986.  Also, “Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatsoever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth.” Edmund Burke, Irish statesman, author, orator, political theorist and philosopher, 1796, Two Letters on the Proposals for Peace with the Regicide Directory.
From Oxford Dictionary of Quotations, Fifth Edition, edited by Elizabeth Knowles (Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York, 2001), Page 25, 164.

Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts. Bernard M. Baruch, Deming (NM) Headlight 06 Jan 1950. Often attributed to U.S. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Various forms: Everybody is entitled to his own opinions, not his own facts. From The Dictionary of Modern Proverbs by Charles Clay Doyle, Wolfgang Mieder and Fred R. Shapiro (2012, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, Page 185. (Bernard Mannes Baruch. 1870–1965. was an American financier, stock-market speculator, statesman, and political consultant. After his success in business, he devoted his time toward advising U.S. Presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt on economic matters and became a philanthropist. Wikipedia.)

Facts are stubborn things. Bernard Mandeville, An Enquiry into the Origin of Honor, and the Usefulness of Christianity in War, 1732. (The Yale Dictionary of Quotations, edited by Fred R. Shapiro, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, 2006, Page 612, Proverbs section, No. 95). Also, Alain-René Lesage, Gil Bias, Book X, Chapter 1, a novel published between 1715 and 1735. (Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, seventeenth edition, by John Bartlett and Justin Kaplan, general editor. Little, Brown and Co., Boston, 2002, 300:6) “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence..” John Adams, in defense of British soldiers in the Boston massacre trials, December 1770. (Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, seventeenth edition, 351.1) Later Adams was elected as the second president of the U.S.,1797-1801. More discussion of the phrase is on the Quote Investigator site,

Fake news. "Fake news appears to have begun seeing general use at the end of the 19th century. [Example] Secretary Brunnell Declares Fake News About His People is Being Telegraphed Over the Country. Cincinnati Commercial Tribune (Concinnati, OH), 7 Jun. 1890." From Merriam Webster, Words We're Watching. The Real Story of 'Fake News'
The term seems to have emerged around the end of the 19th century.

Father of Lies, The. Satan. From Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by John Ayto  (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 2005, Seventeenth  Edition), Page 816.

Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it.  John 8:44, Bible, King James Version.

Give the lie to. “Serve to show that (something seemingly apparent or previously stated or believed) is not true: these figures give the lie to the notion that Britain is excessively strike-ridden.” Oxford Dictionaries.

God gave us lies so we could get out of things. An old mobster gives his minion a difficult task – put three olives on a toothpick without touching the olives. He failed.
Irving Dressler: “…What would you have done?”
Junior (Dressler’s guest): “I’d have been all over those olives with my fingers.”
“And then lied about it.”
“Absolutely. That’s why God gave us lies. So we could get out of things.
From The Fame Thief: A Junior Bender Mystery by Timothy Hallinan, (2013, Soho Press, N.Y., Page 18-19.)

Greatest Lie, The. A Palmer (the palm was a badge that indicated a pilgrim who had been to the Holy Land), a Pardoner (licensed by the Church to sell "indulgences"), a Potticary (apothecary/medieval pharmacist), and a Pedlar (a peddler/door-to-door salesman) “dispute as to which could tell the greatest lie. The Palmer says that he has never seen a woman out of patience, whereupon the other three throw up the sponge, saying such falsehood could not possibly be outdone.” From “The Four P’s” by John Heywood, about 1540. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Page 610. Occupational definitions from Internet Shakespeare Editions. University of Victoria, 29 Nov. 2013. Web. 30 Nov. 2013.

How dare you come back here and tell me the truth? Actress upset by backstage truth delivered by acting instructor Lee Strasburg. Story from Marilyn and Me by Susan Strasberg. Source: Delancy Place quote of the day, Nov. 27, 2015.

I cannot tell a lie. The story of George Washington chopping down a cherry tree isn’t exactly a lie – but it is an “anecdote” told to Anglican minister Mason Locke “Parson” Weems by an “excellent lady.” George, 6, was given a hatchet and he used it to bark – or more accurately, de-bark -- “a beautiful young English cherry-tree.”

George, said his father, do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry-tree yonder in the garden? This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all-conquering truth, he bravely cried out, “I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.”– Run to my arms, you dearest boy, cried his father in transports, run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold. From The Fable of George Washington and the Cherry Tree, The Life of Washington, by Mason Locke Weems, 1809. Source online: The Papers of George Washington, University of  Virginia.

I tell a lie (or that's a lie). Informal. “An expression used to correct oneself immediately when one realizes that one has made an incorrect remark: I never used to dream—I tell a lie, I did dream when I was little.” Source: Oxford Dictionaries.

If I’m lying, I’m flying. “If I’m lying, I’m flying and my feet sure ain’t got no wings.” From “The Lynchers” by John Edgar Wideman, 1973. Variation, “If I’m lying, I’m dying…,” From a Wolfman Jack, television ad, WPIX-TV, New York City, July 5, 1977. Cited in Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang, Volume 2, H-O, by J.E. Lighter, Random House, New York, 1997, Page 429.

If you tell a lie, it will be all over the country in a day or two. But if you tell the truth, it will take ten years to get there. Eddie “Son” House quoted in the preface to Preachin’ the Blues: The Life & Times of Son House by Daniel Beaumont, Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y., 2011.

I'm not saying he's a liar, but when it's time to feed his hogs, he has to get someone else to call 'em. All Hat & No Cattle: A Guide for New Texans and All the West of Us by Anne Dingus, Lone Star Books, Gulf Publishing Co., Houston, 1999, Page 50.

In the absence of facts, we tell ourselves stories. “In the absence of facts, he thinks, we tell ourselves stories. This is clearly what the news media is doing – CNN, Twitter, Huffington Post – the twenty-four-hour cycle of speculation…” Gus Franklin, an investigator, in After the Fall by Noah Hawley, a work of fiction, Grand Central Publishing, New York, N.Y., 2016, Page 195. 

Is Truth Dead? Time magazine cover, April 3, 2017. “To illustrate this week’s cover story on President Trump and the truth, we took inspiration from one of the most iconic covers in TIME’s history. Set on a stark black field and inside the red border, the headline ‘Is Truth Dead?’ is a typographical homage to our ‘Is God Dead?’ cover from April 8, 1966.”  Press Room. “Is Truth Dead? Behind the TIME Cover” by D.W. Pine, Mar 23, 2017.

It's not a lie if you believe it. Fictional character George Costanza's advice on how to beat a lie detector test. Seinfeld, television series, Season 6, Episode 16, The Beard. YouTube. Script.

It’s your lie, tell it the way you want to. Telephone conversation overheard in Frankfort, Ky.

I’ve always been a fan of reality by majority vote. Comedian and satirist Stephen Colbert, The Colbert Report, April 2012. “When Creationists Collide with Stephen Colbert” by  Michael Schulson, 15 Dec 2013.

House-of-mirrors moment with the truth. “…we are in a complicated house-of-mirrors moment with the truth…The nature of truth has always been slippery, but technology has given us so many tools for deception, and such a powerful megaphone, that we are constantly forced to defend against it.  What can we believe? Who can we trust? It’s like we’re all suffering a giant crisis of authenticity.”My fake online boyfriend by Sarah Hepola, Salon.com, 19 March 2012.  Accessed 20 March 2012.

Lie like a rug.  “They say the truth is not in us, first of all. They say we lie like wet rugs (1940s+).” The Dictionary of American Slang, Fourth Edition by Barbara Ann Kipfer, PhD. and Robert L. Chapman, Ph.D., 2007, HarperCollins Publishers. Cited on Dictionary.com

Liar loans. “You can call them liar loans. You can call them NINAs. But whatever you call them, two of the country's largest private mortgage insurers have their own word for them: trouble. NINA is the lending industry's acronym for No Income, No Asset verification home mortgages – a fast-growing segment of the high-froth real estate market of the past three years. NINAs are the ultimate form of  ‘limited documentation’ lending. You basically show nothing. In exchange for an interest rate that may be anywhere from 1.5 percent to 3 percent above the going market rate, the lender asks for almost no personal information about you when you apply…” From “Liars, Liars, Loans on Fire” by Kenneth R. Harney, The Washington Post, April 24, 2004, accessed online April 30, 2004.

Liar’s bench/liars’bench. A bench or other seating in a public place – like outside the post office or courthouse or in a the general store “where gentlemen exchange veracities.” 1975, “Maine Lingo: Boiled Owls, Billdads, & Wazzats” by John Gould, Page 162. Oldest citation in Dictionary of American Regional English, I-O, Volume III by Frederic G. Cassidy and Joan Houston Hall (1996, Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Mass., and London, England).Page 339. Similar to Liars Club, an affection term for a group of elders – mostly old men – who gather on a regular basis to drink coffee or enjoy a meal and swap tall tales.

Lie like a senator. Phrase from Little Elvises: a Junior Bender Mystery by Timothy Hallinan, 2012, Soho Press Inc., Page 243.

Lies, damn lies and statistics. This is persuasive evidence that the author of the phrase is Benjamin Disraeli (1804-1881), British prime minister and novelist. It was attributed to Disraeli in the London Times, July 27, 1895, and in Mark Twain’s Autobiography. The phrase “There are lies, there are outrageous lies and there are statistics” was used in June 1892 by Robert Giffen in The Economic Journal. But in that same year in September 1892 in “Temple Bar,” the phrase “lies, d---ed lies and statistics” was attribute to “some wits.” Thomas Carlyle in 1832 attributed the saying “you might prove anything with figures” to “a witty statesman,” maybe Disraeli, “who may have had a reputation for being a critic of statistics.” From The Yale Book of  Quotations, edited by Fred Shapiro, Yale University Press, 2006, Disraeli, No. 38, Page 208.

Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. A book written by Al Franken and published in 2003 by Penguin Books. Franken was a writer and performer on Saturday Night Live. The career arc of U.S. Senator Franken is described on his official page: “Before running for the Senate, Al spent 37 years as a comedy writer, author, and radio talk show host and has taken part in seven USO tours, visiting our troops overseas in Germany, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Uzbekistan-as well as visiting Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kuwait four times. First elected to the Senate [from Minnesota] in 2008, and re-elected in 2014…”

Lying through your teeth. Variation: "to lie in one's teeth." It means to be "such a double-dyed liar as to be unfamiliar with the truth. It is very old, traceable to the early 1300s, as in 'The Romance of Guy of Warwick'..." From 2107 Curious Word Origins, Sayings & Expressions from White Elephants to a Song and Dance by Charles Earle Funk (Galahad Book, New York, 1993), Page 162. Another variation: Lie in one’s beard (or throat). Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Page 816.

Make lies sound truthful. “Political language — and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists — is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind. One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase — some jackboot, Achilles’ heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse — into the dustbin where it belongs.” George Orwell: “Politics and the English Language,” first published: Horizon. — GB, London. — April 1946.

Not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate. U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, on the floor of the Senate in April 2011, said abortions are 90 percent of the health procedures done by Planned Parenthood. When confronted by CNN with the fact that 3 percent of Planned Parenthood health services are related to abortion not 90 (See Planned Parenthood at a Glance.), Sen. Kyl's office issued an official statement that his remark "was not intended to be a factual statement, but rather to illustrate that Planned Parenthood, an organization that receives millions in taxpayer dollars, does subsidize abortion." From The Obama Hate Machine: The Lies, Distortions, and Personal Attacks on the President -- and Who Is Behind Them by Bill Press, Thomas Dunne Books, 2012, Page 246.

Pants on fire. "Liar, liar, pants on fire, hang them up on telephone wire.” This is a "derisive rhyme" used by children. From American Children's Folklore: A Book of Rhymes, Games, Jokes, Stories, Secret Languages, Beliefs and Camp Legends for Parents, Grandparents, Teachers, Counselors and All Adults Who Were Once Children by Simon J. Bronner (August House Inc., Little Rock, Ark., 1988).

Pinocchio circling. Indications that a whopper is being told. The term was used by two psychologists who conducted a study in 2000:

“Caught up in a powerful story, we become blind to inconsistencies that seem glaring in retrospect. In 2000, two psychologists, Melanie Green and Timothy Brock, had a group of people read ‘Murder at the Mall,’ a short story adapted from a true account of a Connecticut murder in Sherwin B. Nuland’s ‘How We Die.’ The plot followed a little girl as she was murdered in a mall. After reading the story, participants answered questions about the events. Then came the key query: Were there any false notes in the narrative, statements that either contradicted something or simply didn’t make sense? Ms. Green and Mr. Brock called this “Pinocchio circling”: the ability to spot elements that signal falsehood. The more engrossed a reader was in the story, the fewer false notes she noticed. Well-told tales make red flags disappear.” (From Born to Be Conned, by Maria Konnikova, The New York Times, Sunday Review, Dec. 5, 2015, Page 4.)

Post-factual era. “…a political discourse where the ‘reality-based community’ is totally replaced by what I would call the ‘post-factual’ era -- a period in time where the dialogue does not even pretend to be based on any actual evidence or concrete information and where the most factually wrong are paraded around as the most right.”
Welcome to the Post-Factual Era, 03/03/2007 The Huffington Post | Updated May 25, 201l. David Sirota, newspaper columnist, radio host (AM760), bestselling author. Accessed July 22, 2016.

Post-truth era. “Even though there have always been liars, lies have usually been told with hesitation, a dash of anxiety, a bit of guilt, a little shame, at least some sheepishness. Now, clever people that we are, we have come up with rationales for tampering with truth so we can dissemble guilt-free. I call it ‘post-truth.’ We live in a post-truth era.* Post-truthfulness exists in an ethical twilight zone. It allows us to dissemble without considering ourselves dishonest. (Author’s note: *Much as I would love to say this phrase is mine, it isn’t. I first saw it in a 1992 ‘Nation’ essay by the late Steve Tesich.)”  From “Beyond Honesty,” a chapter in The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life, by Ralph Keyes, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2004, Page 12-13.

Pravda/istina. “The word for truth in Russian that most Americans know is ‘pravda’ — the truth that seems evident on the surface. It’s subjective and infinitely malleable, which is why the Soviet Communists called their party newspaper ‘Pravda.’ Despots, autocrats and other cynical politicians are adept at manipulating pravda to their own ends. But the real truth, the underlying, cosmic, unshakable truth of things is called ‘istina’ in Russian. You can fiddle with the pravda all you want, but you can’t change the istina.”  “To Understand Trump, Learn Russian,” The New York Times, opinion, Andrew Rosenthal, Dec. 15, 2015.

Speak truth to power. According to online sources, the phrase comes from the title of a Quaker pamphlet: Speak Truth to Power: A Quaker Search for an Alternative to Violence (1955) It says, in part:

Our title, Speak Truth to Power, taken from a charge given to Eighteenth Century Friends, suggests the effort that is made to speak from the deepest insight of the Quaker faith, as this faith is understood by those who prepared this study. We speak to power in three senses:
  • To those who hold high places in our national life and bear the terrible responsibility of making decisions for war or peace.
  • To the American people who are the final reservoir of power in this country and whose values and expectations set the limits for those who exercise authority.
  • To the idea of Power itself, and its impact on Twentieth Century life.

Quaker historian H. Larry Ingle wrote, “The phrase ‘speaking truth to power’ goes back to 1955, when the American Friends Service Committee published Speak Truth to Power, a pamphlet that proposed a new approach to the Cold War. Its title, which came to Friend Milton Mayer toward the end of the week in summer 1954 when the composing committee finished work on the document, has become almost a cliché; it has become common far beyond Quaker circles, often used by people who have no idea of its origins…” Source: http://eddriscoll.com/archives/010217.php

The Devil tells the best stories. Didn't your mama teach you that? From The Ask and the Answer, Book 2 in the Chaos Walking trilogy, by Patrick Ness, first U.S. paperback edition, 2010, Candlewick Press, Somerville, Mass., Page 153.

The truth may set you free, but it's the little white lie that will save your ass. From Don't Blink by James Patterson and Howard Roughan, Little, Brown & Co., 2010, Page 188. Fictional character quoting his journalism professor at Northwestern.

Truth is deeply out of fashion. “In the 2016 presidential campaign, the truth is starting to look deeply out of fashion.” From “Candidates Stick to Script If not the Truth” by Michael Barbaro, The New York Times, Nov. 8, 2015, Page 1.

Truthful hyperbole or truth-based boasts. “When Trump: The Art of the Deal was published, Donald Trump claimed that 200,000 copies had been printed, that ‘The Today Show’ planned to interview him five times, and that the issue of ‘New York’ magazine with an excerpt of his book was its biggest seller ever. In fact, 150,000 copies of ‘Trump’ were printed, ‘Today’ interviewed him twice, and ‘New York’s’ sales figures were not available at the time he made his claims. In his book, Trump called this kind of braggadocio ‘truthful hyperbole.’ After ‘The Apprentice’ became a hit, Trump claimed his television show was the season’s ratings leader (when it was actually #7) and said he was America’s highest paid television personality. A ‘Fortune’ reporter who debunked these claims, and many others, concluded that Trump’s boasts about himself were, at best, ‘loosely truth-based.’”  From The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life by Ralph Keyes, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 2004, Page 14-15.

Truther. The term was originally used to refer to 9/11 Truthers. The movement known as "9/11 Truth," was/is “a society of skeptics and scientists who believe the government was complicit in the terrorist attacks.” From "500 Conspiracy Buffs Meet to Seek the Truth of 9/11," The New York Times, Alan Feuer, June 5, 2006. Mr. Feuer presented it as a neutral term but a 2015 New York Times Magazine article said it has mutated into a negative term. “A truther stereotype was born — and mutated. Today, anyone who subscribes to or perpetuates less­mainstream or in some cases deeply offensive versions of accepted scenarios becomes susceptible to the dreaded ‘er’ suffix. Add ‘er,’ dismiss as nuts (rinse and retweet). It suggests a position on the fringe in the same way that, say, adding ‘gate’ signifies a scandal…” From “First Words: The Weaponization of ‘Truther’” by Mark Leibovich, The New York Times Magazine, Nov. 3, 2015.

Truthiness. Stephen Colbert, American comedian and writer, introduced “truthiness” on "The Word segment of his debut broadcast on Comedy Central back in October 2005. Soon after, this word was chosen as the 16th annual Word of the Year by the American Dialect Society, and defined by them as ‘the quality of preferring concepts or facts one wishes to be true, rather than concepts or facts known to be true.’" Visitors to Merriam-Webster online voted 5-1 for truthiness as the Word of the Year for 2006. (Information from Merriam-Webster online.) The definition from Oxford Dictionaries site: truthiness [mass noun] informal. The quality of seeming or being felt to be true, even if not necessarily true.

White lie. A white lie is trivial, harmless. Often told to spare someone’s feelings. “Such a lie is light or mild, qualities associated with white.” Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable revised by John Ayto  (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 2005, Seventeenth  Edition), Page 1484.

You can't handle the truth! Line from a courtroom scene in a movie, A Few Good Men (1992). According to Wikipedia, the movie was adapted for the screen by Aaron Sorkin from his play of the same name. You Tube.
Col. Nathan R. Jessup (Jack Nicholson): I'll answer the question. You want answers? 
Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise): I think I'm entitled.
Col. Jessup: You want answers?
Lt. Kaffee: I want the truth.
Col. Jessup: You can't handle the truth!

You didn't tell a lie, but you left a big hole in the truth. Reporter Helen Thomas  speaking to Larry Speakes, President Reagan’s press secretary.  “Larry Speakes dies at 74; served as President Reagan's press secretary,” LA Times wire services, 10 Jan 2014.

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