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A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.
—A quote with many variants that is falsely attributed to many (e.g. Mark Twain and Winston Churchill)[1]
Just because something isn't a lie does not mean that it isn't deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks mere portions of truth in order to deceive is a craftsman of destruction.
—Chris Jami
He who permits himself to tell a lie once, finds it much easier to do it a second and third time, till at length it becomes habitual; he tells lies without attending to it, and truths without the world's believing him. This falsehood of the tongue leads to that of the heart, and in time depraves all its good dispositions.
Thomas Jefferson, 1785.[2]

Deceit is a term denoting the misrepresentation of the truth.

Deceit can be used for many purposes, some more innocent (such as what's known as a white lie), some more destructive. Lying, or explicit misrepresentation, is a subset of deceit.

Some forms of deceit may be unintentional or the result of a logical fallacy, and don't necessarily mean the speaker intends to deceive (also see Hanlon's razor).

Common examples[edit]

Deceit can take many forms:

  • Lie — the most basic form of deceit, where some known false information is divulged so as to mislead the audience on the chosen topic.
  • Bullshit — disregarding the distinction between truth and falsehood, saying or spreading anything in order to move the audience.
  • Affinity fraud — abuse of the trust of others because you are (or pretend to be) a member of the same socio-economic, religious, or ethnic group.
  • Burning the evidence — attempting to secure plausible deniability by destroying possible trails of evidence that could, if left intact, allow potential investigators to correctly identify the true culprit.
  • Censorship — silencing all dissenting viewpoints.
  • Confabulation — promoting falsehoods while believing yourself to be truthful, largely due to a false memory.
  • Coverup — trying to suppress evidence of one's misdeeds.
  • Equivocation — abusing wordplay in a way that's not technically lying, but is trying to give an incorrect impression.
  • Misdirection — distracting or diverting from the issue at hand in order to avoid further conclusions to be drawn.
  • Quote mining — presenting a real (but "hairdressed") quote, deliberately placed out of context and presented in a new or different context, so as to make it seem like it meant something else than was originally intended. This differs from making a "misquotation", as those are simply mistakenly attributed or phrased wrongly.
  • Obfuscation — nonsensical claptrap, or words without any particular connection to reality.
  • Omission — failing to report something that wasn't specifically asked for (yet perhaps cannot be asked for as it is an unknown unknown to other people), with the express intent to deceive others via manipulating their perception of the truth.
  • One single proof — claiming that without a specific key proof, the whole argument is invalid.
  • Propaganda — affect or control the perceptions and behavior of a population.
  • Revisionism — revising history to something it wasn't.
  • Self-deception — metaphorically (or literally...) sticking your fingers in your ears and going "Lalalala! I can't hear you!".
  • Statistics — sometimes statistics are used as a drunken man uses lampposts — for support rather than illumination.

Grains of truth[edit]

For more information, see: Bait-and-switch

Although deceit might come as a sort of fractal wrongness (that is, containing very little to no truth at all), it can also come with a "grain of truth" within it. As a matter of fact, mixing truth with deceit is one of the most effective ways to cause people to accept the part that is deceit. This is especially the case when the deceiving actor introduces the audience to true information that makes them feel better-educated for having heard it. This can cause the listener to feel that they trust the speaker more than they otherwise would have, allowing the speaker a greater general presumption of good faith, which can be exploited by the speaker to deceive a sympathetic audience. Now with that out of the way, may we interest you in RationalWiki brand supplements?

Deceit in the Bible[edit]

Perhaps the best known example can be found in Genesis chapter 27. Isaac is dying, and wants to bless his first born son Esau but needs some munchies first (it would be silly to bless someone on an empty stomach), but Esau's twin brother Jacob overhears, gives Isaac his needed munchies, and receives the blessing instead. Jacob is later renamed to "Israel" by God (Genesis 32:28) and goes on to become the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel and ancestor of Jesus Christ.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. We'd point out that pathological lying is a known characteristic of sociopathy, but that might be poisoning the well. (Besides, narcissism sounds like a more accurate armchair diagnosis of Trump.)