35 aphorisms on liars and lying

Yesterday I tried to get some clarity on what constitutes lying. I came up with this inelegant definition:

What qualifies something as a lie is not its truth or falsity, but the conscious (or unconscious) attempt to deceive (or be deceived by) others (and/or oneself).

How to lie
1. Dr. Johnson:
“We are inclined to believe those whom we do not know because they have never deceived us.

2. Marquess of Halifax:
“Malice must go under the disguise of plainness, or else it is exposed.”

3. Mark Twain:
“One of the most striking differences between a cat and a lie is that a cat only has nine lives.”

4. Samuel Butler:
“The best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way.”

5. Vauvenargues:
“A liar is a man who does not know how to deceive, a flatterer one who deceives fools; he alone can pride himself on his cleverness who knows how to make skilful use of the truth.”

6. Marquess of Halifax:
“There is so much wit necessary to make a skilful hypocrite that the faculty is fallen among bunglers, who make it ridiculous.”

We’re all liars
7. Don Marquis:
“A hypocrite is a person who – but who isn’t?”

8. Vauvenargues:
“Everyone is born sincere and die deceivers.”

9. Hazlitt:
“Some degree of affectation is as necessary to the mind as dress is to the body; we must overact our part in some measure, in order to produce any effect at all.”

10. Nietzsche:
“Nothing seems to me to be rarer today than genuine hypocrisy.”

11. Mr Justice Darling:
“Much truth is spoken, that more may be concealed.”

12. Marcel Proust:
“The fact of a man’s having proclaimed…that it is wicked to lie obliges him as a rule to lie more than other people.”

We can’t tell the truth plain
13. Robert Louis Stevenson:
“To tell the truth, rightly understood, is not to state the true facts, but to convey a true impression.”

14. Samuel Butler:
“If we seek real rather than technical truth, it is more true to be considerately untruthful within limits than to be inconsiderately truthful without them.”

15. Marcus Aurelius:
“How hollow and insincere it sounds when someone says, ‘I am determined to be perfectly straightforward with you’.”

16. Anon:
“We are forced to lie (I had almost said) rather than not say somewhat to please.”

Liars lie to themselves first
17. Nietzsche:
“With all great deceivers there is a noteworthy occurrence to which they owe their power. In the actual act of deception they are overcome by belief in themselves: it is this which then speaks so miraculously and compellingly to those who surround them.”

18. J.H. Newman:
“It is not in human nature to deceive others, for any long time, without, in a measure, deceiving ourselves.”

19. G.K. Chesterton:
“We ought to see far enough into a hypocrite to see even his sincerity.”

Not all falseness is lying…and not all lying is falseness
20. Schopenhauer:
“Politeness is a false coin; to be niggardly with it shows a want of intelligence.”

21. Sir Arthur Helps:
“Many are content to wear the mask of foolishness, in order to carry on the vicious schemes.”

22. de Flers and de Croisset:
“How badly a woman lies when you know she is lying!”

23. G.K. Chesterton:
“What is bad in the candid friend is that he is not candid. he is keeping something back – his own gloomy pleasure in saying unpleasant things.”

24. Robert Louis Stevenson:
“The cruellest lies are often told in silence.”

25. Vauvenargues:
“The art of pleasing is the art of deception.”

Ethical lying?
26. Eugene Labiche:
“There are times when lying is the most sacred of duties.”

27. Nietzsche:
“All truths that are kept become poisonous.”

The role of the receiver of the lie
28. Dr. Johnson:
“Cunning has effect from the credulity of others rather than from the abilities of those who are cunning. It requires no extraordinary talents to lie and deceive.”

29. Mark Twain:
“A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.”

30. La Rouchefoucauld:
“Some disguised deceits counterfeit the truth so perfectly that not to be taken in by them would be an error of judgement.”

31. Jean Rostand:
“We find it easy to believe that praise is sincere: why should anyone lie in telling us the truth?”

32. Dr. Johnson:
“A man would rather have a hundred lies told of him, than one truth which he does not wish to be told.”

33. Sir Francis Bacon:
“It is not the difficulty and labour which men take in finding out of truth doth bring lies in favour; but a natural though corrupt love of the lie itself.”

34. Schopenhauer:
“If we suspect that a man is lying, we should pretend to believe him; for then he becomes bold and assured, lies more vigorously, and is unmasked.”

35. Moliere:
“People can be induced to swallow anything, provided it is sufficiently seasoned with praise.”


4 Responses

  1. Damn, that’s a good list.
    thought you might like these aphorisms.
    let me know what you think

  2. […] Mark Twain once wrote, “A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.”   It looks like we’ve seen that phenomenon in action over the last weekend.  John and I will have more to say about this after we’ve spent a little more time putting bread on our tables, but under the circumstances we wanted to get this quick hit up. […]

  3. Can you dig up a statement by George Bernard Shaw on lying — how the liar needs a perfect record or a perfect memory? Thanks

    • Can you dig up a statement by George Bernard Shaw on lying — how the liar needs a perfect record or a perfect memory? Thanks

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