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View Full Version : Why does "liar" have no simple antonym?

twickster
04-28-2005, 08:54 AM
(The usual upfront disclaimer: Mods, if this is in the wrong forum, mea culpa, pls. move.)

I'm editing a magazine of logic problems, and the one at the top of the stack at the morning has the heading "Truth-Tellers and Liars." It's a pretty standard type of puzzle: a group of people make a series of inter-referential statements and the solver needs to figure out which statements are true and which are false.

For some reason, though, I'm stuck on the fact that there's no simple antonym for "liar" -- we use "truth-teller," but it's definitely awkward.

I guess the simple "why" for this lacuna is that we expect people to tell the truth, so there's no need for a single word for a person who does.

Oh, wait, I need to post this in the form of a question? Okay, how about:

Do other languages have a simple term for "truth-teller"?

Ethilrist
04-28-2005, 08:58 AM
The problem you're going to see is that everybody sees the entire continuum of truth-teller to liar as degrees of liar, i.e., even if you hardly ever lie, that doesn't make you a truth-teller; it just means you're not a frequent liar.

marky33
04-28-2005, 09:11 AM
The problem you're going to see is that everybody sees the entire continuum of truth-teller to liar as degrees of liar, i.e., even if you hardly ever lie, that doesn't make you a truth-teller; it just means you're not a frequent liar.
.... or just because you tell the odd lie, that doesn't make you a liar; it just means you're not an absolute truth-teller.

Mangetout
04-28-2005, 09:16 AM
What the others said; there is no antonym because there is no distinct opposite state that it would describe.

Same, I suspect, with killer, robber, preacher

marky33
04-28-2005, 09:25 AM
What the others said; there is no antonym because there is no distinct opposite state that it would describe.

[/i]
That's not what I was saying, actually.
Telling the truth is as absolute as lying, surely - a sliding scale that slides both ways - making that argument redundant.

twickster
04-28-2005, 09:29 AM
What the others said; there is no antonym because there is no distinct opposite state that it would describe.

Same, I suspect, with killer, robber, preacher

Okay, but none of these nouns are based on verbs that have opposites. IOW, there is no such thing as "the opposite of kill," "the opposite of rob," "the opposite of preach."

But there is an "opposite" of telling the truth, which is lying. (Or vice versa.)

So I guess my real question is, why is there no single word for telling the truth?

twickster
04-28-2005, 09:35 AM
Phooey! Went for "preview" and hit "submit" by mistake.

My next point was that there are layers of nouns and verbs here.

Killer = person who kills.

Liar = person who lies.

So for each of these nouns, there's a verb that it's based on.

To go down one more level, though, there's a noun associated with "lie" -- which is, of course, also "lie."

Hm, so maybe that's the anomaly, that we have a situation where there's both a noun and a verb that are the same word, so I'm looking for the antonym of the bottom level noun, and it's just coincidence that it's the same word.

Liar = person who lies [and] person who tells lies.

Murderer = person who murders [and] person who commits murder.

No, that doesn't work, because there's no opposite of "murder" (the noun).

Which smiley goes with "damn, I'm so confused"?

Mangetout
04-28-2005, 09:36 AM
The opposite of kill is 'spare'

guizot
04-28-2005, 09:37 AM
For some reason, though, I'm stuck on the fact that there's no simple antonym for "liar"Why? Many words don't have antonyms.

scr4
04-28-2005, 09:38 AM
But there is an "opposite" of telling the truth, which is lying. (Or vice versa.)

So I guess my real question is, why is there no single word for telling the truth?

But as you just pointed out, the antonym of "lie" (verb) is "tell the truth" which isn't a single word.

twickster
04-28-2005, 09:39 AM
Yeah, but at the bottom noun level, there is a pair of antonyms -- "truth" and "lie."

Why did "person who tells a lie" get its own noun form but "person who tells the truth" didn't?

twickster
04-28-2005, 09:41 AM
Sorry -- that was in response to etmiller -- but scr4 gets the same question -- why does "lying" get a single verb but "telling the truth" doesn't?

pravnik
04-28-2005, 11:17 AM
Do other languages have a simple term for "truth-teller"?
Czech has one, and I believe a few other Slavic languages (namely Russian) share it. It's "pravnik," which roughly translates to "truther." :D It also means "lawyer."

twickster
04-28-2005, 11:27 AM
Cool! :D

ouryL
04-28-2005, 11:45 AM
Okay, but none of these nouns are based on verbs that have opposites. IOW, there is no such thing as "the opposite of kill," "the opposite of rob," "the opposite of preach."

But there is an "opposite" of telling the truth, which is lying. (Or vice versa.)

So I guess my real question is, why is there no single word for telling the truth?

Ah, but what is lying? Who says what it true or not? :confused:

I could say my brother is bald, since I have a full head of hair and he is receding. But if my uncle was here, it could be disputed because my uncle is really bald.

White is said to be the opposite of black - what does that mean? Is eggshell the same as ivory? Is ebony the same as charcoal?

Aren't opposites sometimes what we call the other choice? Is not a yes equal to a no? Is not a no equal to yes? If we think in terms of yes or no, black or white, or up or down, things begin to crash when the was maybe or no response, gray or I don't know.

Catch my drift? :p

twickster
04-28-2005, 11:48 AM
Catch my drift? :p

Um, no.

guizot
04-28-2005, 11:51 AM
Sorry -- that was in response to etmiller -- but scr4 gets the same question -- why does "lying" get a single verb but "telling the truth" doesn't?It's an interesting question, come to think of it. I think all language reflects the society from which it comes. Societies have norms--things which most people are supposed to do (or not do). If a society creates the word truther, for example, it means that this society does not expect most people to tell the truth. But English-language societies have (religious) taboos against baring false witness.

We do have related nouns in English that reflect actual social contexts: whistleblower, for example implies that most people in an organization keep quiet.

Otto
04-28-2005, 11:52 AM
But as you just pointed out, the antonym of "lie" (verb) is "tell the truth" which isn't a single word.
You been lyin' when you shoulda been truthin'

..

Nametag
04-28-2005, 11:57 AM
..
Well, I HAD managed to forget...bastard.

guizot
04-28-2005, 11:58 AM
You been lyin' when you shoulda been truthin'Excellent example. A lyricist creates a social realm, and has the liberty to "coin" new vocabulary, based upon theme, metrics, etc.

Nametag
04-28-2005, 11:58 AM
OK, that was weird. I was responding to "Does no one remember Nancy Sinatra?" but I guess that was the title, and didn't make it into the quote...bastard.

:D

Bambi Hassenpfeffer
04-28-2005, 11:59 AM
Yeah, but at the bottom noun level, there is a pair of antonyms -- "truth" and "lie."

Why did "person who tells a lie" get its own noun form but "person who tells the truth" didn't?
I don't know that I consider "truth" and "lie" to be a pair of antonyms. A lie is a single false statement, told with intent to deceive. The truth is not a single true statement -- note that it's a lie and the truth -- because lie is a count noun and truth is a mass noun.

I can't think of a single word that means the exact opposite of lie, i.e. "truthful statement", which is why (I believe) that there isn't a single word meaning the opposite of "to lie".

On preview:
I knew someone would bring up an idiomatic use of truthing. Did not know it would be Nancy Sinatra, but cool. I believe that we could all agree that in English you can verb any noun (See what I did there?), but that doesn't necessarily make it correct yet. "To truth" would be understood by most speakers, but I would not say that it has entered correct, educated usage.

guizot
04-28-2005, 12:14 PM
"To truth" would be understood by most speakers, but I would not say that it has entered correct, educated usage.Who is the authority that says something has "entered correct, educate usage," and who profers that authority?

Bambi Hassenpfeffer
04-28-2005, 12:23 PM
Who is the authority that says something has "entered correct, educate usage," and who profers that authority?
Um, in English (as I suspect you're already aware), no one has such authority. We don't have an institution such as the Real Academia Española to proclaim 'correct' English from on high. However, I'm certain that we can agree that it is not yet common to see "to truth" in use in the field. If the use of "truth" as a verb gains currency among speakers of SAE, it becomes by definition correct. I know what you're trying to imply, but I am not a prescriptivist by any means.

twickster
04-28-2005, 12:44 PM
I don't know that I consider "truth" and "lie" to be a pair of antonyms. A lie is a single false statement, told with intent to deceive. The truth is not a single true statement -- note that it's a lie and the truth -- because lie is a count noun and truth is a mass noun.

Whoa. Without opening that whole epistemological can of worms --

I think we can agree that it is possible for each of a series of statements is either true or false, i.e., either "the truth" or "a lie."

For instance, I might say:

2. I am a truck driver
3. My favorite color is green
4. I had chicken soup for lunch

Of these statements, #1 is "the truth," #2 is "a lie," #3 is "the truth" and #4 is "a lie."

Why I would want to lie -- what it "means" to have a favorite color -- what your definition of the word "is" is -- etc., --- are all irrelevant. The fact of the matter is, in day-to-day usage, I made two true statements and true false, or lying, statements, so I "truthed" twice and I "lied" twice.

matt_mcl
04-28-2005, 01:07 PM
I think we can agree that it is possible for each of a series of statements is either true or false, i.e., either "the truth" or "a lie."

Well, no. The opposite of truth in this case is falsity, not a lie.

To lie is not to say something false: it's to deceive by saying something you believe to be false.

I can say something false without lying: by being mistaken. If I say that the capital of South Carolina is Charleston (it's Columbia), I would not be telling the truth, but I wouldn't necessarily be lying, i.e. attempting to deceive the interlocutor into believing that it's Charleston.

(Interestingly, some Native American languages have a system of verb markers that require the speaker to qualify the statement according to its source and veracity. If you say something false using the "it is said" marker, it is considered a mistake; if you say something false using the "I know this to be true" marker, it is considered a lie.)

Trunk
04-28-2005, 01:23 PM
. . . there's no opposite of "murder" (the noun).

"crow free"

twickster
04-28-2005, 01:29 PM
matt_mcl -- very cool. Thanks. I think you answered the the question I should have been asking.

And Trunk -- :p !

awldune
04-28-2005, 01:55 PM
Etymologically, isn't 'soothsayer' a person who tells the truth?

The word doesn't carry that meaning anymore, of course.

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