Home
In this issue
April 9, 2014

Jonathan Tobin: Why Did Kerry Lie About Israeli Blame?

Samuel G. Freedman: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Jessica Ivins: A resolution 70 years later for a father's unsettling legacy of ashes from Dachau

Kim Giles: Asking for help is not weakness

Kathy Kristof and Barbara Hoch Marcus: 7 Great Growth Israeli Stocks

Matthew Mientka: How Beans, Peas, And Chickpeas Cleanse Bad Cholesterol and Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

Sabrina Bachai: 5 At-Home Treatments For Headaches

The Kosher Gourmet by Daniel Neman Have yourself a matzo ball: The secrets bubby never told you and recipes she could have never imagined

April 8, 2014

Lori Nawyn: At Your Wit's End and Back: Finding Peace

Susan B. Garland and Rachel L. Sheedy: Strategies Married Couples Can Use to Boost Benefits

David Muhlbaum: Smart Tax Deductions Non-Itemizers Can Claim

Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.E : Before You Lose Your Mental Edge

Dana Dovey: Coffee Drinkers Rejoice! Your Cup Of Joe Can Prevent Death From Liver Disease

Chris Weller: Electric 'Thinking Cap' Puts Your Brain Power Into High Gear

The Kosher Gourmet by Marlene Parrish A gift of hazelnuts keeps giving --- for a variety of nutty recipes: Entree, side, soup, dessert

April 4, 2014

Rabbi David Gutterman: The Word for Nothing Means Everything

Charles Krauthammer: Kerry's folly, Chapter 3

Amy Peterson: A life of love: How to build lasting relationships with your children

John Ericson: Older Women: Save Your Heart, Prevent Stroke Don't Drink Diet

John Ericson: Why 50 million Americans will still have spring allergies after taking meds

Cameron Huddleston: Best and Worst Buys of April 2014

Stacy Rapacon: Great Mutual Funds for Young Investors

Sarah Boesveld: Teacher keeps promise to mail thousands of former students letters written by their past selves

The Kosher Gourmet by Sharon Thompson Anyone can make a salad, you say. But can they make a great salad? (SECRETS, TESTED TECHNIQUES + 4 RECIPES, INCLUDING DRESSINGS)

April 2, 2014

Paul Greenberg: Death and joy in the spring

Dan Barry: Should South Carolina Jews be forced to maintain this chimney built by Germans serving the Nazis?

Mayra Bitsko: Save me! An alien took over my child's personality

Frank Clayton: Get happy: 20 scientifically proven happiness activities

Susan Scutti: It's Genetic! Obesity and the 'Carb Breakdown' Gene

Lecia Bushak: Why Hand Sanitizer May Actually Harm Your Health

Stacy Rapacon: Great Funds You Can Own for $500 or Less

Cameron Huddleston: 7 Ways to Save on Home Decor

The Kosher Gourmet by Steve Petusevsky Exploring ingredients as edible-stuffed containers (TWO RECIPES + TIPS & TECHINQUES)

Jewish World Review Nov. 3, 2008 / 5 Mar-Cheshvan 5769

LIES

By Paul Greenberg


Printer Friendly Version
Email this article

http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | Dear Reader,

It was wholly a pleasure to see your good question in the Letters column of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, where I supervise the opinion pages. "I have a question for Paul Greenberg," you wrote. You wanted to know why we often replace the word "lies" in a letter to the editor "with the word 'falsehoods'? Is this only when the word is referring to the Iraq war?"

Allow me to answer: What we're trying to do is preserve the meaning of a much abused word. To lie should mean to tell a deliberate falsehood. That is, to tell a falsehood conscious that it is one, and so attempt to deceive. To say something false believing it to be true is not a lie; it is only an error. One can say something false quite sincerely; it becomes a lie only when one knows it isn't true.

Nor is a failure to fulfill a promise a lie. That's another all too common misconception, as in "the politician lied when he said he'd lower taxes but he didn't." That's not a lie but a broken promise.

Surely the generals who were confident the enemy in Iraq had supplies of nerve gas ready to use, and so equipped their troops with all that unwieldy protective garb, weren't lying, and neither were all those politicians who believed Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. They were just mistaken.

There is a distinction between a lie and a mistake. And one of the functions of language is to make distinctions, not muddle them. There are so many different gradations of betrayal in politics, it's important to be precise about them if only for the language's sake.

Part of the greatness of the English language is its large vocabulary, allowing us to capture a wide range of meanings and make fine distinctions. Like the difference between a falsehood and a lie.

Every lie is a falsehood, but not every falsehood is a lie.

We could lie without starting out to — like a witness in a lawsuit who intends only to skirt the truth but, tempted by some transient advantage in this world, crosses the line, betraying not only his oath but his soul. The road to perjury, too, is paved with good intentions.

A great, dramatic Faustian bargain with the Devil is the stuff of literature, but in our mundane lives He may prefer to creep up on us a step at a time. Gradualism is the more effective strategy. That way, we slip easily into Evil, almost unawares.

We don't want to call someone a liar in the paper when he may have been only mistaken. The difference is an important one. And, yes, a publication is responsible before the law (and, more important, conscience) for whatever it prints, including letters to the editor.

We don't pretend to be mind readers, and be able to tell when a politician is lying. Although this does not keep us from doubting his veracity, or allowing our letter-writers to do so. To question the truth of a worthy opponent's position is not to call him a liar.

And of course we don't make such distinctions only in reference to the war in Iraq but in general.

It would take a Talmudist to outline all the varieties of untruths, forgivable and un-, from little white lies to the soul-destroying kind. Let's not lump them all together indiscriminately.

Amid the quadrennial overflow of political passions that is a presidential election year, it is all the more important to hold on to the clarity and integrity of words. Recommended reading: "Politics and the English Language" by George Orwell, an essay that ought to be required reading for anyone interested in the evolution — and devolution — of political language.

We have been given an invaluable treasure in the English tongue. To polish and cherish it, to keep it clear and make it even clearer, is each generation's duty to the next. For as the language goes, so goes the nation.

To quote Milton, "I am inclined to believe that when the language in common use in any country becomes irregular and depraved, it is followed by their ruin, or their degradation. For what do terms used without skill or meaning, which are at once corrupt and misapplied, denote but a people listless, supine, and ripe for servitude? On the contrary, we have never heard of any people or state which has not flourished in some degree of prosperity as long as their language has retained its elegance and purity."

Today the word "lie" is thrown about with careless abandon. It's part of the general devaluation of language as sloganspeak supplants thought. A kind of Gresham's Law operates in semantics as well as economics as the base drives out the noble, and cheap rhetoric makes the refined product increasingly rare. What ambitious politician would risk thought when he can offer bombast?

The preservation of language, like that of liberty, requires eternal vigilance. Words are the currency of thought, and when they are debased, so is how we think, feel, and soon enough act.

I ain't lyin',

Inky Wrench

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in the media and Washington consider "must-reading". Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributor Paul Greenberg, editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, has won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. Send your comments by clicking here.

Paul Greenberg Archives

© 2006 Tribune Media Services, Inc.

Columnists

Toons

Lifestyles