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"If I asked your brother which way to go, what would he say?" Then go the other way, because either it's a lie about the truth, or the truth about a lie."--The junction with two brothers riddle, see Labyrinth by Jim Henson

"And this made me also ambitious to leave some monument of myself behind me, that I might not be the only man exempted from this liberty of lying: and because I had no matter of verity to employ my pen in (for nothing hath befallen me worth the writing), I turned my style to publish untruths, but with an honester mind than others have done: for this one thing I confidently pronounce for a truth, that I lie: and this, I hope, may be an excuse for all the rest, when I confess what I am faulty in: for I write of matters which I neither saw nor suffered, nor heard by report from others, which are in no being, nor possible ever to have a beginning. Let no man therefore in any case give any credit to them." --A True Story by Lucian, Hickes translation

"For Plato fiction is untruth and unworthy of a philosopher, see Plato on censorship"--Sholem Stein

Don Quixote (c. 1868) by Honoré Daumier
Don Quixote (c. 1868) by Honoré Daumier

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A lie is an untruthful statement made to someone else with the intention to deceive. To lie is to say something one believes to be false with the intention that it be taken for the truth by someone else. A liar is a person who is known to have a tendency to tell lies.

A lie involves the use of conventional truthbearers, (i.e., statements in words or symbols) and not natural signs. Intentional deceit involving natural signs, such as wearing a wig, shamming a limp, or wearing a fake arm cast, is not usually classed as "lying", but as "deception".

A true statement may be a lie. If the person who makes the true statement genuinely believes it to be false, and makes the statement with the intention that his audience believe it to be true, then this is a lie. When a person lies he or she is intentionally untruthful, but he or she is not necessarily making an untrue statement.


Psychology of lying

The capacity to lie is noted early and nearly universally in human development. Social psychology and developmental psychology are concerned with the theory of mind, which people employ to simulate another's reaction to their story and determine if a lie will be believable. The most commonly cited milestone, what is known as Machiavellian intelligence, is at the age of about four and a half years, when children begin to be able to lie convincingly. Before this, they seem simply unable to comprehend that anyone doesn't see the same view of events that they do — and seem to assume that there is only one point of view, which is their own.

Young children learn from experience that stating an untruth can avoid punishment for misdeeds, before they develop the theory of mind necessary to understand why it works. In this stage of development, children will sometimes tell outrageous and unbelievable lies, because they lack the conceptual framework to judge whether a statement is believable, or even to understand the concept of believability.

When children first learn how lying works, they lack the moral understanding of when to refrain from doing it. It takes years of watching people tell lies, and the results of these lies, to develop a proper understanding. Propensity to lie varies greatly between children, some doing so habitually and others being habitually honest. Habits in this regard are likely to change in early adulthood.

Those with Parkinson's disease show difficulties in deceiving others, difficulties that link to prefrontal hypometabolism. This suggests a link between the capacity for dishonesty and integrity of prefrontal functioning.

Pseudologia fantastica is a term applied by psychiatrists to the behaviour of habitual or compulsive lying.

Mythomania is the condition where there is an excessive or abnormal propensity for lying and exaggerating.

A recent study found that lying takes longer than telling the truth. Or, as Chief Joseph succinctly put it, "It does not require many words to speak the truth."

Love and war

The cliché "All is fair in love and war" finds justification for lies used to gain advantage in these situations. Sun Tzu declared that "All warfare is based on deception." Machiavelli advised the Prince "never to attempt to win by force what can be won by deception," and Thomas Hobbes wrote in Leviathan: "In war, force and fraud are the two cardinal virtues."

In culture

Cultural references


  • The concept of a memory hole was first popularized by George Orwell's dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, where the Party's Ministry of Truth systematically re-created all potential historical documents, in effect re-writing all of history to match the often-changing state propaganda. These changes were complete and undetectable.
  • In the film Big Fat Liar, the story producer Marty Wolf (a notorious and proud liar himself) steals a story from student Jason Shepard, telling of a character whose lies become out of control to the point where each lie he tells causes him to grow in size.
  • In the film Liar Liar, the lawyer Fletcher Reede (Jim Carrey) cannot lie for 24 hours, due to a wish of his son that magically came true.
  • In the 1985 film Max Headroom, the title character comments that one can always tell when a politician lies because "their lips move". The joke has been widely repeated and rephrased.
  • Larry-Boy! And the Fib from Outer Space! was a story of a crime-fighting super-hero with super-suction ears, having to stop an alien calling himself "Fib" from destroying the town of Bumblyburg due to the lies which caused Fib to grow. Telling the truth is the moral to this story.
  • Lie to Me, a TV series based on behavior analysts who read lies through facial expressions and body language. The protagonists, Dr. Cal Lightman and Dr. Gillian Foster are based on the above-mentioned Dr. Paul Ekman and Dr. Maureen O'Sullivan.
  • The Invention of Lying is a 2009 movie depicting the fictitious invention of the first lie, starring Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, and Tina Fey.
  • The Adventures of Baron Munchausen tell the story about an 18th-century baron who tells outrageous, unbelievable stories, which he claims are all true.
  • In the games Grand Theft Auto IV and Grand Theft Auto V, there's an agency named FIB, a parody of the FBI, Which is known to cover up stories, cooperate with criminals, and extract information with the use of lying.


Sir Walter Scott's famous couplet "Oh, what a tangled web we weave / When first we practise to deceive!" describes the often difficult procedure of covering up a lie so that it is not detected in the future.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lie" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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