What does the word “lie” mean?

“Lie” has many definitions but the only one I’m concerned with now is “To tell an untruth; to speak or write falsely…”

The reason? Once again, the Twitterati are accusatory about how the New York Times’ reportage uses other terms to describe what we consider a lie.

And again, critics rake the Times for interviewing members of what we consider an irrational mob. I don’t understand that criticism or the implied suggestion that the 74 million people who voted for Trump in 2020 (I’m not revisiting 2016; it’s still too painful) should be journalistically disappeared, should not have their opinions elicited by a major newspaper.

I was fairly horrified at that number. But I’m unable, as always, to shut my brain off. My damn brain just insists on wondering “Why?” Or, if you’d prefer, “What the fuck?” Meaning, I still want to understand how so many people voice their craziness or stupidity, and voicing to the Times is the only way I’m going to learn sickening things about this country.

Optimist I may be, but in denial I am not.

Just took out my father’s 1924 Roget’s to get a list of synonyms for “lie” as a noun, and “lie” as a verb.

Among the nouns: falseness, falsity, untruthfulness, mendacity, fabrication; subreption; covin. (The last two are why I love this old thesaurus.)

Among the verbs: misstate, misquote, miscite, misreport, misrepresent; prevaricate.

We can add some useful modifiers, such as “without evidence,” and “without proof.”

Here’s why I think the Times usually does not describe a false statement as a lie:

The full definition of the word “lie” is “a deliberately false statement.” Emphasize on “deliberately.” For a statement to be more than false, to be called a lie, it has to be known to the person making the statement that it’s false. Whoever prints the word “lie” has to have evidence that the person issuing that lie knows it’s a lie.

I just constructed a stupidly simple example. Your next-door neighbor knocks on your door, in a state of agitation, and tells you, “Look out there! It’s a huge cat!”

You look. You don’t see a huge cat. What you do see is a fluffy medium-size dog.

Four ways you can react to this. Depending on how much you know about your neighbor, you could say, “Very funny, Cecil,” and then Cecil laughs while you offer a taut smile. (It’s not true, but Cecil believes he’s a wag.)

Or you could say, “I guess you didn’t get that new Rx for glasses we were talking about last week.” (A misperception.)

Or you could say, “That’s a dog. Why are you making stuff up again, Cecil?” (He’s lying.)

Or maybe you know Cecil is hallucinating so you could ask if he’s refilled his Rx for his anti-psychotic meds. (Cecil thinks he’s accurate.)

But only if you know Cecil is deliberately handing you a falsehood can you call it a lie.

Unquestionably, when we read a statement we know to be a lie, delivered by someone who we know to be a liar, we yell at the newspaper and say, “It’s a lie! Just call it a lie!”

But a newspaper which prides itself on its factual coverage can’t call someone a liar without confirming what’s in that person’s mind. “Stop The Steal!” is a demonstrable lie to us, but it may not be to the person screaming it.

Let me point out plenty of writers who appear in the Times’ opinion essays use the word “lie.” Seems clear the Times doesn’t banish the word.

But if you’re going crazy about news stories that don’t use that word, please reconsider. Think about who your enemy is. Is it the man who lies, or the reporter who calls the lie a falsehood?

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