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Little white lies

I enjoyed Kati Sule’s roundup blog last Friday, especially the link to the article by Erin McKean in the Boston Globe about how we use so-called ‘contrary-to-fact’ phrases to allow us to say negative or critical things to other people. The opposite of such ‘lying qualifiers’ may be the little white lie. We tell people white lies to protect them from the truth (as opposed to a straight lie, which is to deny someone the truth). With white lies, we are disguising or veiling a truth to spare a person’s feelings, rather than excusing ourselves for telling a truth that may well cause offense. So a white lie may be more tactful than the ‘but-heads’ quoted in the article, but I do wonder sometimes whether these linguistic Trojan horses devalue honesty to the point where no-one is ever frank with anyone any more.

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Beth Penfold

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