At WhoWhatWhy, we spend a lot of time picking through lies to get closer to the truth. Here’s a handy guide to some of our favorite quotes about lies, liars, and lying.

CaptureA selection of quotes on lying.  At WhoWhatWhy, a big part of our job is asking questions and, in response, we may get lies, half-truths, or misdirection. Lying has many different aspects. Sometimes it is an act of betrayal.  Or even an act of violence, in a way.  Or, it can be an act of kindness.  But probably more often than not, it is a cover-your-ass maneuver.  And, in politics, there is much ass to cover.  Here for your enjoyment are some of our favorite quotes about lies, lying, and liars:

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)

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

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)

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

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

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

Everything the State says is a lie, and everything it has it has stolen. (Friedrich Nietzsche)

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)

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

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)

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

Lying is done with words, and also with silence. (Adrienne Rich)

A half-truth is a whole lie. (Yiddish Proverb)

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

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 best liar is he who makes the smallest amount of lying go the longest way. (Samuel Butler)

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)

The Devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape. (William Shakespeare)

© Robert Bowen, reproduced with permission.

© Robert Bowen, reproduced with permission.

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)

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)

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

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

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)

“The real reason we have faces,” Margot Lassiter observes, “is to hold back what we’re thinking from the world.” (Eli Gottlieb)

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

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)

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

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

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

I would lie, of course. 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. I guarded what truths I possessed because information was not a thing—it was colorless odorless shapeless and therefore indestructible. There was no way to retrieve or void it, no way to halt its proliferation. 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)

© Robert Bowen, reproduced with permission.

© Robert Bowen, reproduced with permission.

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)

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)

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)

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)

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

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

We need falsifications to make the past inhabitable. (Frans Kellendonk)

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)

© Robert Bowen, reproduced with permission.

© Robert Bowen, reproduced with permission.

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

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

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)

When it comes to controlling human beings there is no better instrument than lies. Because, you see, humans live by beliefs. And beliefs can be manipulated. The power to manipulate beliefs is the only thing that counts. (Michael Ende)

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)

© Robert Bowen, reproduced with permission.

© Robert Bowen, reproduced with permission.

Semiotics is in principle the discipline studying everything which can be used in order to lie. If something cannot be used to tell a lie, conversely it cannot be used to tell the truth: it cannot in fact be used “to tell” at all. (Umberto Eco)

Whence arose all the horrid assassinations of whole nations of men, women, and infants, with which the Bible is filled; and the bloody persecutions, and tortures unto death and religious wars, that since that time have laid Europe in blood and ashes; whence arose they, but from this impious thing called revealed religion, and this monstrous belief that God has spoken to man? The lies of the Bible have been the cause of the one, and the lies of the Testament of the other. (Thomas Paine)


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IMAGES: Robert Bowen


  • 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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