Big and fat or teeny and white, research say that a lie comes at us as often as 200 times a day. Seems impossible until we consider a few sources: on-line dating profiles (90% contain a lie says Scientific American), job resumes (estimates at 40%), family and friends (average 75%), product hype to disappear our wrinkles and grow our hair back, and presidential candidate debates.
According to a study by the University of Massachusetts, in ten minutes of conversation 60% of adults lied an average of three times. I’m sure all of us are among the perfectly honest 40%, right? Actually the 60% who lied thought they were too, and didn’t believe the outcome until they listened to a playback of their conversation. It goes without saying that the lies, in the great majority, are not damaging. They are the fibs we tell to come off as better, smarter, witty and worthy. We want to fit in, be liked, gracefully back out of a social obligation, or not hurt someone’s feelings.
Lying is a skill that most of us discovered around age four, honed through childhood, and practiced avidly in the teen years. As adults, our patterns are pretty well set. When my grandmother left post WWII Europe to come to America, her new life she included major plot alterations of the one she’d left behind. They became such a part of her new identity that she probably died believing her father had been a surgeon, and that she did study music at the Sorbonne.
The Italians have that wonderful expression to articulate their prime cultural commandment: fare la bella figura, literally “to make the beautiful figure”, meaning to create the best possible impression in every situation while looking and sounding great throughout. It comes down to impeccable fashion sense, good manners, and a flair for producing just the right words and actions to fit the moment. One can’t help but wonder how many piccole bugie bianche (little white lies) it takes to keep all that glued together.
It would be fun to go on in this anecdotal vein, especially since I was just on the verge of making my column my confessional, but I stay my hand and turn now to the lexicon of lying, the real motive for this piece. I became interested in the subject years ago when my ex was a detective for the state police and I used to read his training manuals on lie detection. Everyone knows at least a few of the what-to-look-fors in terms of gestures and body movements that might indicate a lie is being told: no eye contact, touching the mouth or throat, shuffling feet, excessive fidgeting, etc.
What follows is the “Dirty (Baker’s) Dozen” of verbal clues that might indicate someone is lying...
Excerpt from the chapter "Pants on Fire" in Wordstruck! The Fun and Fascination of Language.