I've been mulling over this question a bit lately. The dictionary doesn't seem to do the word justice. Just so you won't have to click too many clicks, I'll quote old Webbie:

1. A falsehood uttered or acted for the purpose of deception; 
an intentional violation of truth; an untruth spoken with the intention to deceive
I guess it is agreed upon that a lie is indelibly intertwined with intent to deceive. That seems true. But let's consider the following situations:
  • Someone asks you what the value of PI is. You think it's 2.7182818284590452353, and say so. Is that a lie? Probably not. You just made a mistake.

  • Someone asks you what the value of PI is. You have no clue. So you say, oh, 1.41421356237309, just a random number off the top of your head. Is that a lie? You pretended to know it. But you're not sure of whether it's an untruth. Is there intent to deceive?

  • Someone asks you what the value of PI is. You don't know, but with intent to deceive, you throw out a random number: 3.1415927. You think you spoke an untruth with intent to deceive. You think you lied. Did you?

  • How about this: your father tells you your shirt will be washed by when you get home. You get home and it's not. Who here thinks that's not a lie? Raise your hands please. When it was spoken, was it a lie? Did it become a lie over time? Perhaps there was no intent to deceive at first, but maybe, when the father saw he was busy, he realised that he wouldn't be able to do it. Does that change the way we look at his sentence? His intent doesn't perhaps change, but at the moment when he knows the shirt is not going to be washed, does it become a lie?

Just food for thought.

This is not saying that I disagree with what you said, semprini, but you used Webster's definition to "prove" it's own correctness. That is not a very effective method of proof. If it was, anything could be proven.

Here's how I digest your food for thought, Footprints.

  • First point: No intention to deceive. Not a lie.

  • Second point: Certanly satisfies the definition of intent to deceive (the deception being that you have correct knowledege of the value of pi), ergo a lie.

  • Third point: Not a falsehood, you spoke the truth with intent to decieve. Does not satisfy the definition. Not a lie.

  • Fourth point: At the time the statement was made the intention was not to deceive. Not a lie. A good point, however. Over time, though, pi could turn out to be 4.01. "Truth" may change over time but a person's intention when providing information does not change once that information has been provided.

Conclusion: Webbie's definition holds.

Your point appears to be that Webster's definition is inadequate. I am showing that it perhaps is not and using your examples.

What constitutes a lie?

Have you ever told a lie? I have. Many. Why did I do it? Self preservation? Protection? Frankly, I have no answers. What I do know, is that a lie only hurts when you are lying to the people who care about you OR if the people whom you care about lie to you.

If a stranger on the street came up to me and told me a lie, I wouldn't care 2 hoots about it. No significant impact to me or my life. However, if my daughter told me a lie - even the tiniest, tinsiest one - would cut to my heart and get me all upset. It indeed hurts to be lied to by your loved ones. What about double whammies? Like maybe you discover that your husband has been lying and to add to that, so has your daughter? Depending I suppose on the magnitude of the lies being told, it would be enough to crumble one's world and send a person off the edge.

Something inside of us snaps, when we are forced into a corner and we feel absolutely TRAPPED by our situation. We have been deceived, we have been rejected by the people we CHOSE to spend our lives with, we cannot see a way out. Our heart is still there, yet we know that its time to press the "protect yourself" button. Millions of what ifs course through our mind. You consider killing people, perhaps disappearing, perhaps something less drastic - like making them PAY for what they have done to you.

Are these useful thoughts? Will it change the situation?

Sadly no. The truth remains is that they lied. Words said, can never be unsaid.

Can you ignore the truth and forget it ever happened? Sadly no. The "truth" of the lie has become a fact, facts cannot be forgotten or erased.

However, we can CHOOSE. We can make choices for ourselves that revolve around the following principles -

  1. Love the people you hate - actively - choose love over hate, because it has a better track record.
  2. Forgive - because it makes YOU feel better.
  3. Remember that you too have lied and are not perfect.
  4. Reconcile or walk away. Life goes on.

In order to understand what constitutes a lie, we must first understand what truth is. However, this is near impossible because the two are synonymous. When asked what truth is, one could say that it "is not a lie". However, when asked what a lie is, one could also say "something that is not the truth". In order for something to become truth, it needs to be universally socially acceptable.


And yet, even that law isn't failproof. What happened when, in the earliest of days, men came to the conclusion that the world was flat? This was universally accepted as a fact when in reality, it was not. So who can decide what constitutes truth or fiction? 


What is a truth, but a lie agreed upon?

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