The Anatomy of the Lie

A Lie Is A Lie

A little inaccuracy sometimes saves a lot of explanations.
— Saki

Whenever a discussion arises concerning lying, often someone will state the fact that “a lie is a lie”, or something that amounts to the same thing, but are all lies the same and are there instances where the lie is better than the truth. This article will explore “The Lie”.

In order to understand “The Lie”, we first must know what it is.

What is a lie?

Ask me no questions and I’ll tell you no lies. — Oliver Goldsmith

The definition of the word Lie, according to, is “A false statement deliberately presented as being true“. The definition does not say that a lie is a false statement which is intended to do harm and all else are simple fibs or untruths. Also, there are no qualifiers in most definitions of the word “Lie” which states that there are many levels of lies. The definition simply states that a lie is a statement made, which is known to be untrue, but presented at the truth.

Who lies?

Delusions are often functional. A mother’s opinions about her children’s beauty, intelligence, goodness, et cetera ad nauseam, keep her from drowning them at birth.
– Robert Heinlein

Everyone lies, so it is said. At some point in everyone’s life, we lie about something. Quite often our first lies occur while we are very small children. Sometimes the lying child is considered cute at first, but parents and other adults quickly decide that laughing at the child for lying will only serve to teach it that lying is funny. You can see proof of this on such shows as America’s Funniest Videos where an entire audience of adults can break out in hysterical laughter over a video of a 2 or 3 year old covered in cookie crumbs telling his mother NO when she asked if he ate the cookie. More often we can see it in the home first hand.

To make this shorter, through out our lives we find that lying can be a convenient way to save us from all sorts of unpleasant situations or to make someone feel good. We learn that there are such thing as acceptable lies and unacceptable lies.

Types Of Lies:

The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie — deliberate, contrived and dishonest — but the myth — persistent, persuasive and unrealistic — John F. Kennedy

There are two primary types of lies, those intended to do harm and those which are meant to be harmless. Everything else can usually fit into one of these two categories. Through-out the ages we find people have broken lies down into more categories than the two named.

St. Augustine de Hippo, 13 November, 354 ~ 28 August, 430, wrote the book “De Mendacio (Of Lying)“ as a part of his work “Retractions” in 395 A.D. Scholars have derived from his works the fact that St. Augustine claimed there were 8 types of lies:

1. Lies in religious teaching.
2. Lies that harm others and help no one.
3. Lies that harm others and help someone.
4. Lies told for the pleasure of lying.
5. Lies told to “please others in smooth discourse.”
6. Lies that harm no one and that help someone.
7. Lies that harm no one and that save someone’s life.
8. Lies that harm no one and that save someone’s “purity.”

Today the list of lies became more detailed. The following are the most commonly accepted forms of lying and are not listed in any order of importance:

A, The Harmful Lie: These types of lies are intended to do harm, they are sometimes known as the “Black Lie” or the “Big Lie”. Many of the types of lies given below, such as lies of exaggeration or perjury, could be made with the intention to do harm to another.

B. The Harmless Lie: These types of lies are not meant to harm anyone. They include such lies as “The White Lie“, “The Brag“ and certain “Lies of Exaggeration“.

1. The “White Lie”: This type of lie is told for a reason, yet it is not intended to do any harm to a person, place or thing if the lie is found out. They are often told for the benefit of the liar, or someone whom the liar is covering by saying the lie. These types of lies are most often told to avoid offending someone from the unpleasantness of the truth.

2. The “Emergency Lie“: This type of lie is a form of “White Lie” and is used when the truth cannot be told with out offending or causing harm to another.

3. Lies-To-Children: This is a euphemism for statements said to children. Mostly this type of lie has the intention of making something which is of an adult nature acceptable for children to hear. Lies to children may also include subjects not of an adult nature.

There are probably other types of “harmless lies” as well.

C. Lies of Misconception and Discord::

Lies of Misconception and Discord may also include Lies intended to Mislead. These lies can be either Harmful or Harmless.

1. . Lying By Omission: This occurs when someone tells us a truth, but deliberately leaves out important facts which may cause us to disagree with their view upon the subject. It is a lie of Misconception.

2. Noble lie: This lie would normally cause some type of discord if uncovered, but it offers some benefit to the liar and/or others. It is often told to maintain law, order and safety. It may also help the elite to maintain power.

3. Perjury: Perjury is when one lies, or makes a false statement, under oath in a court of law or any of the various sworn statements in writing. Perjury is a lie which is punishable by law due.

4. Misleading Lie: This lie occurs when a person makes a statement which isn’t exactly an outright lie. The purpose of this lie is often to make an untruth seem like the truth.

5. The Bold-faced Lie (also known as “The Barefaced Lie): This is when an untruth is said which is obviously a lie.

D. Lies not perceived as Lies by the majority:

1. Jocose Lies: These are lies which are meant in jest and are usually understood as such by all present parties.

2. Bluffing: This is another type of “harmless” lie, but one that is found to be acceptable. This lie is an act of deception used when playing a game or trying to get out of some situation that might be harmful to the liar.

3. Exaggeration: An Exaggeration is often a true statement which has aspects of being untrue due to the degree of the statements made.

a. The Brag: This is a type of lie which falls under the Lie of Exaggeration. It can be based on truth or it could be complete fabrication.

Jocose Lies: No harm, no foul?

The truth of a proposition has nothing to do with it’s credibility. And vice versa.
~ Robert Heinlein

The jocose lie is one told for the purpose of, or under the guise of, amusement. Whether the lie is harmful or harmless depends solely upon two main things:

1. How the speaker presents the “Joke”. Some comedians tell their lies for a laugh in ways which support the lie as being the truth, even though it is presented in humor.

2. How the audience perceives the “Joke”. Some listeners of jokes told by comedians accept the “Lie” told in humor as the truth, even if the comedian makes it clear they are ’lying’ for a laugh.

It is strange that St. Augustine did not add the Jocose Lie as a part of his types of lies, obviously he did not have comedians and talk show hosts in his day and age or else his views would have included lies that are made under the guise of humor.

Every day citizens are not the only ones who lie!

A monarch’s neck should always have a noose around it. It keeps him upright.
~ Robert A. Heinlein

In life we find out that the common person is not the only ones who lie, in fact we often are quick to recognized a lie from someone who is important or famous. In some cases we will listen to people who know no more about something than we do and believe their accusations of someone lying over the person who is accused of lying.

One of the groups of people that many, if not most, of us believe to be liars are politicians. I would hazard to guess that it is believed by more people that politicians lie and any other group of people… with the possible exception of lawyers. We will often blame the politician for lying, while allowing the news person who asked a question that he or she knew couldn’t be answered completely or honestly by any one in the government escape with out as much as a look of disdain in their direction.

Politicians lie for many reasons. Sometimes they lie because of National Security Issues or Security Reasons, sometimes they lie because if they told the truth they would interfere with the due process of law, sometimes the appear to lie because they are misinformed themselves by underlings who are supposed to tell them the truth or because what they say is taken out of context, and sometimes they lie for personal reasons. As with all lies, we should try to discern the real reason for the lies we are told, instead of blindly following the words of someone who really may not know the full story either.


The lie is something perpetuated by many, they can be for the purpose of harming others or they can be meant to simply conceal something that we would rather not have known. The choice is ours , but there is always an option to lying. That option is just telling people that you don’t think they need to know that information.


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