MARTHA SEZ: ‘There are so many ways to talk about lying!’

You can’t make this stuff up. Well, actually, you can.

My mother taught me that it is impolite to say that someone is wrong and to accuse someone of telling a lie is even worse. Instead, you might say, “I believe you are mistaken.”

Small-town gossip is a common form of storytelling that may not be exactly lying, but isn’t devoted to veracity either. I remember that soon after my daughter and I moved to the Adirondacks 32 years ago I began hearing stories about myself that were so detailed, down to the clothes I was supposedly wearing and the words I was speaking, that I very nearly believed them myself.

“But I don’t even own a green polka-dot blouse! But I was nowhere near Stewart’s that night! But, but …”

“Sure,” said Frank Wordsworth. “We’ll talk about you. And if we don’t like the story, we’ll change it!”

I already knew that there are people everywhere who don’t necessarily tell tall tales, but who would lie about anything, the weather, the time of day, for no particular reason, but just because.

Lying is as old as humankind, but no newscasters on mainstream TV, no matter what they privately thought, used to accuse anyone, even politicians, of outright lying. Exaggeration, half-truth, embellishment — so many ways to tiptoe around the issue. My favorite was the phrase “alternative facts,” coined by political consultant Kellyanne Conway.

The reluctance to call a spade a spade, to admit that the emperor has no clothes, made the title of Sen. Al Franken’s book “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them,” published in 2003, even funnier because of its mild shock value.

Over the years that has changed. As time went on, commentators became less polite. Now when we turn on the news we are likely to hear about lies, outright lies, damnable lies, even B.S.

There are so many ways to talk about lying! These have become household words: misinformation, disinformation, fabulist, fake news, embellishment, fabrication, prevarication, artistic license, conspiracy theory, dissimulate, dissemble, disingenuous, malicious fiction, mendacious, con game, untruth, slander, deep-fake technology. There are nuances and special meanings, different words for different kinds of lies.

To dissemble, for example, is to disguise or hide under a false appearance, while to prevaricate is to avoid telling the truth by not directly answering a question.

According to Merriam-Webster, to equivocate means “to avoid committing to something or to use words that have more than one sense in order to say one thing while actually meaning another. It is a word commonly used about politicians.”

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn used the word stretcher to describe a statement or story that involved stretching the truth.

Realism is what is real, while verisimilitude is the mere appearance of reality.

Roorback is false information intended to mislead, especially government propaganda published for political effect.

To palter is to act insincerely or deceitfully. Shakespeare used the word in “Julius Caesar:” “Romans, that have spoke the word, and will not palter.”

According to the “Harvard Gazette:”

“Paltering is when a communicator says truthful things and in the process knowingly leads the listener to a false conclusion. It has the same effect as lying, but it allows the communicator to say truthful things and, some of our studies suggest, feel like they’re not being as deceptive as liars.” (Todd Rogers, Harvard Kennedy School)

Not content with cloning and genetic modification, some scientists at the University of Texas, Austin, have made advances in mindreading, using MRI technology, perhaps in an attempt to get at the truth beneath people’s paltering and equivocating.

Yes, yes, we admit, you scientists are brilliant, but why not work on something more useful, like curing cancer, or getting rid of menstrual cramps or infant colic? Anyway, I imagine the results you’d get from reading the mind of a person inside an MRI capsule would be pretty boring.

“Oh no, I’m about to cough. I wonder if that will throw off the experiment. Ha ha. I wonder what to get for dinner when they let me out of here. I wonder how long I have to stay in here. It’s a good thing I don’t get claustrophobia. Asparagus? But I might have claustrophobia in a minute. Hi ho hi ho it’s off to work we go la la la la would Wilber like beef stroganoff, I don’t know, it’s kind of old-fashioned … My foot itches …”

And we haven’t even touched on AI, artificial intelligence! Next time.

Have a good week.

(Martha Allen lives in Keene Valley. She has been writing for the Lake Placid News for more than 20 years.)

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