What is a lie?

This comes from a conversation I had in comments in a Facebook forum, one in which a commenter was accused of “lying” because he supported the “stolen election” story.  What is commonly called “the Big Lie” these days.

At least by those who do not understand what the word “lie” means.

Words have definitions.  In order to have a rational debate about something one needs to first agree on those definitions.  If we’re in mid-debate and all of a sudden you decide to re-define the word “black” as meaning “white”, then accuse me of something as a result of that, that doesn’t work.  You don’t get to do that.

Sometimes redefinitions are slippery-er.  We commonly use the word “Orwellian” for that. 

If the government comes to tell you “we’re here to help you” and you find out what they really mean is they’re going to take you away to “educate you” because of some opinion you’ve expressed, that’s “Orwellian”. 

They are neither “helping” you nor “educating” you, they are hurting and attempting to brainwash you.

I typically use the Oxford English Dictionary to define words.  There are others that are equally reliable, it’s just the one I use.

Let’s look at the word “lie”, for example.


And the relevant entry is “a false statement made with intent to deceive”.

Now, by this definition, is a child who tells you there is a Santa Claus lying to you?  He’s certainly expressing something that is not true (and largely doing it for self-serving reasons…), but does he have “intent to deceive”? 

Hardly.  That child is not lying, they likely believe Santa Claus IS real.  They’re not intending to deceive you, they’re just pointing out the obvious truth (to them) that there IS a Santa Claus.

On the other hand, if a 62 year old Facebook poster (me) tells  you there IS a Santa Claus (and you should send me a present), I most certainly AM lying to  you – with a self serving intent also.


When someone tells you they believe the 2020 election was stolen, are they “lying” to you?

Whether YOU believe that to be true or not is immaterial.  The question is whether THEY believe it.    And, if they do, what they’re doing is not LYING to you, they’re simply expressing an opinion you disagree with.

But then putting it that way doesn’t generate the backlash and clicks that calling it “the Big Lie” does, doesn’t it.  It also makes it easier for intellectually lazy people to debate.  Throw out the “l-word” and then just sit back.  No need to actually use facts or evidence in the debate.

If we all backed down and had a rational conversation involving evidence on both sides instead of just calling each other names, THAT would be no fun, would it?

If simply expressing an opinion you don’t agree with is a “lie”, people do that ALL the time.  If you’re a Christian and a Jew tells you Jesus is not the messiah, is that Jew “lying to you”?  Ditto if a Muslim tells you the one true god is Allah.  Or a Hindu who tells you you’re all wrong and there are multiple gods. 

Of course none of them are lying to you.  It’s just what they believe, and it happens to be different than what YOU believe.

Think about that next time you see a story about how someone is “lying” – just because they’re expressing an opinion YOU don’t believe. 

Do you really think they don’t believe what they’re saying and they’re just attempting to deceive you for some reason?  Or are they simply disagreeing with you?

And, perhaps more importantly, think about that the next time you are tempted to accuse someone of “lying”, again because they’re expressing an opinion different from yours. 

They probably are NOT lying, so instead of being lazy, use some other language to dispute their contentions.

And… have a great debate!