Landscape by Robert Bowen Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

Lies, Liars, and Lying

Great Quotations by Great Observers — and Practitioners — of the Art


A charming selection of some of our favorite quotes about lies, liars, and lying, quotes by the witty, the wacky, and the worldly. And that’s the truth.

Everyone lies. Every minute of every day, someone is lying.

Even animals lie. Scientists tell us that chimps who were taught sign language shamelessly tell whoppers: Who broke the vase? Chimp signs: the cat did it. Who swiped the pizza? Chimp signs: the dog did it. Who cleaned up in here? Chimp signs: I did it. That chimp should run for office.

Even plants lie. The Venus FlyTrap, for instance, deceives in its own way.

Lying is a natural phenomenon. In humans, lies seem to be a secretion, a substance produced by a gland, in response to certain stimuli. But in some humans, the gland is hyperactive.

To learn more about lying, see the witty, wacky, worldly quotes below.

Introduction by Milicent Cranor

Often the surest way to convey misinformation is to tell the strict truth. (Mark Twain)

No mask like open truth to cover lies, as to go naked is the best disguise. (William Congreve)

Somewhere between the honest truth and the deceptive lie is the deceptive truth and the honest lie. (Robert Brault)

Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth. (Oscar Wilde)

Man is not what he thinks he is. He is what he hides. (André Malraux)

Sometimes you can learn things from the way a person denies something. The choice of lies can be almost as helpful as the truth. (Laurell K. Hamilton)

Alice in Wonderland by Robert Bowen Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

Alice in Wonderland by Robert Bowen. Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

People who are brutally honest get more satisfaction out of the brutality than out of the honesty. (Richard J. Needham)

A truth that’s told with bad intent beats all the lies you can invent. (William Blake)

Always telling the truth is no doubt better than always lying, although equally pathological. (Robert Brault)

Truth shrieks, she runs distraught and disheveled through her temple’s corridors…. ‘I can endure lies,’ she cries. ‘I cannot survive this stifling verisimilitude.’ (Thornton Wilder)

Convictions are more dangerous foes of truth than lies. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

Always tell the truth. Even if you have to make it up. (Author Unknown)

Beware of the half-truth. You may have gotten hold of the wrong half. (Author Unknown)

I do not mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy. (Samuel Butler)

I never lie because I don’t fear anyone. You only lie when you’re afraid. (John Gotti)

Half the lies they tell about me aren’t true. (Yogi Berra)

Who you gonna believe, me or your own eyes? (Chico Marx)

Bullshit makes the flowers grow and that is beautiful. (Gregory Hill)

Clinton lied. A man might forget where he parks or where he lives, but he never forgets oral sex, no matter how bad it is. (Barbara Bush)

It is hard to believe that a man is telling the truth when you know that you would lie if you were in his place. (Henry Louis Mencken)

Nixon is one of the few in the history of this country to run for high office talking out of both sides of his mouth at the same time and lying out of both sides. (Harry Truman)

Occasionally he stumbled over the truth, but hastily picked himself up and hurried on as if nothing had happened. (Winston Churchill)

A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. (Mark Twain)

By the time you swear you’re his,

Shivering and sighing.

And he vows his passion is,

Infinite, undying.

Lady make note of this —

One of you is lying.

(Dorothy Parker)

Lady, I do not make up things. That is lies. Lies are not true. But the truth could be made up if you know how. And that’s the truth. (Lily Tomlin)

Flatland by Robert Bowen Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

Flatland by Robert Bowen. Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

Liars and panderers in government would have a much harder time of it if so many people didn’t insist on their right to remain ignorant and blindly agreeable. (Bill Maher)

One of the expedients of party to acquire influence, within particular districts, is to misrepresent the opinions and aims of other districts. (George Washington)

I have a higher and grander standard of principle than George Washington. He could not lie; I can, but I won’t. (Mark Twain)

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.  (Sun Tzu)

The rulers of the state are the only persons who ought to have the privilege of lying, either at home or abroad; they may be allowed to lie for the good of the state. (Plato)

Moby Dick by Robert Bowen Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

Moby Dick by Robert Bowen. Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

What we have to do, what at any rate it is our duty to do, is to revive the old art of Lying. (Oscar Wilde)

The wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling. (Mark Twain)

I lied a lot, and with good reason: to protect the truth—safeguard it like wearing fake gems to keep the real ones from getting stolen or cheapened by overuse… Telling someone a secret was like storing plutonium inside a sandwich bag; the information would inevitably outlive the friendship or love or trust in which you’d placed it. And then you would have given it away. (Jennifer Egan)

On the whole, lying is a cheerful affair. Embellishments are intended to give pleasure. People long to tell you what they imagine you want to hear. They want to amuse you; they want to amuse themselves; they want to show you a good time. This is beyond hospitality. This is art. (Isabel Fonseca)

Lying is not only saying what isn’t true. It is also, in fact especially, saying more than is true and, in the case of the human heart, saying more than one feels. We all do it, every day, to make life simpler. (Albert Camus)

If we were all given by magic the power to read each other’s thoughts, I suppose the first effect would be to dissolve all friendships. (Bertrand Russell)

Not much music left inside us for life to dance to. Our youth has gone to the ends of the earth to die in the silence of the truth. And where, I ask you, can a man escape to, when he hasn’t enough madness left inside him? The truth is an endless death agony. The truth is death. You have to choose: death or lies. I’ve never been able to kill myself. (Louis-Ferdinand Céline)

There are only two ways of telling the complete truth — anonymously and posthumously. (Thomas Sowell)

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Robert Bowen Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Robert Bowen. Photo credit: © Robert Bowen / (reproduced with permission)

The hardest tumble a man can take is to fall over his own bluff. (Ambrose Bierce)

The people who lie the most are nearly always the clumsiest at it, and they’re easier to fool with lies than most people, too. You’d think they’d be on the lookout for lies, but they seem to be the very ones that will believe almost anything at all. (Dashiell Hammett)

The trouble with lying and deceiving is that their efficiency depends entirely upon a clear notion of the truth that the liar and deceiver wishes to hide. (Hannah Arendt)

It is an occupational hazard that anyone who has spent her life learning how to lie eventually becomes bad at telling the truth. (Ally Carter)

You can’t lie a lifetime, son. Either you gon’ tell the truth, or the truth’s gon’ tell on you. (Daniel Black)

I know that sometimes a lie is used in kindness. I don’t believe it ever works kindly. The quick pain of the truth can pass away, but the slow, eating agony of a lie is never lost. That’s a running sore. (John Steinbeck)

All the dead bolts, pulled shades and hidden knives in the world couldn’t protect you from the truth. (Wally Lamb)

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies. (Pablo Picasso)

All drama is about lies. All drama is about something that’s hidden. A drama starts because a situation becomes imbalanced by a lie. The lie may be something we tell each other or something we think about ourselves, but the lie imbalances a situation. If you’re cheating on your wife the repression of that puts things out of balance; or if you’re someone you think you’re not, and you think you should be further ahead in your job, that neurotic vision takes over your life and you’re plagued by it until you’re cleansed. At the end of a play the lie is revealed. The better the play the more surprising and inevitable the lie is. Aristotle told us this. (David Mamet)

The truth is more important than the facts. (Frank Lloyd Wright)

[This article, which was previously published in 2014, has been updated.]

Related front page panorama photo credit: Flatland (© Robert Bowen / – reproduced with permission)

We are extremely grateful to Robert Bowen who gave us permission to use his fascinating images. To see more works by this inventive artist, please go here.


  • Milicent Cranor

    Milicent Cranor is a senior editor at WhoWhatWhy. She has worked as a creative editor at E.P. Dutton, a comedy ghostwriter, and editor of consequential legal and scientific documents. She has also co-authored numerous peer-reviewed articles for medical journals.

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