If Truth Be Told — Best Business English


“That a lie which is all a lie may be met and fought outright
But a lie which is part a truth is harder to fight.”
(Tennyson, The Grandmother, 1859)

What makes the English language so fascinating and frustrating is how hard it can be to define simple words. For example, the two words on everyone’s lips right now are:

But what do they mean to you? How do you define them?

In the Oxford English dictionary, Lie (noun) is defined as “an intentionally false statement”. That is simple enough, but the understanding of the word becomes stretched when you look at the synonyms for lie, which include: untruth, falsehood, fib, fabrication, deception, made-up story, white lie, fake news, invention, fiction, falsification, falsity, fairy story/tale…
Is a lie worse than a fib? What about white lie – that may be acceptable in certain circumstances ‘to protect the innocent’ – and a half-truth? If a ‘fact’ were ‘half true’ surely it would require further evidence and investigation to establish its validity.

What about truth? That is defined as “in accordance with fact or reality”. The original word came from Dutch / German, and in Old English ‘trewth’ meant constancy and faithfulness.

Philosophers have had a merry time trying to establish the meaning of truth. There’s a lively 40-minute discussion on BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, if you want to follow the philosophers.

There is also a famous quote, “There are 3 kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistic”. But the true author has not been established. In his Autobiography Mark Twain attributed it to the Victorian Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. But there is no evidence for it in any of Disraeli’s writings or sayings.

Many people believe that there are ‘universal truths’ and these can be found by pursuing a spiritual path. For me these are honourable beliefs but they are tied into faith – defined as

“1, complete trust or confidence in someone or something;
2, strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof”.

Fake news becomes conflicted with truth. A large minority of Americans still believe that Donald Trump won the last election in the US. A poll in January 2022 by the Washington Post showed than only 21% of Republican votes thought that President Biden was elected legitimately in 2020. While Trump has accepted that he lost the election he still maintains that the vote was rigged.

So the lessons from all this is that using the English language has to be treated with care. We cannot assume that our words will be widely understood and appreciated. Perhaps within our own audience.


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