Is this use of the verb "belie" correct?

A forward-thinking high school senior has taken on Trader Joe’s for some of their marketing. The student’s petition evidently includes this text: “labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of ‘Joe’ that belies a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”

I’m all for the sentiment - given my geographic circumstances, I have never been in a Trader Joe’s, but I cringed at the accompanying picture showing taco shells marketed as “Trader Jose’s” - but the editor in me screams "That is NOT a correct usage of the word “belie.”

Dopers, please comment. Am I wrong?

Yes, the meaning is wrong of course. To belie a narrative is to contradict it, not support it. Also, the form of the verb does not agree with the plural subject (modifications). And I think an editor would say the concatenated “that” clauses are inelegant.

That was exactly what I thought. Glad I’m not the only one.

I should take more care over my own vocabulary. It would have been better to describe the “that” clauses as nested rather than concatenated.

I rather like it the way it is: Modifications of ‘Joe’ contradict harmful stereotypes (by using harmless stereotypes)

I might have used the word “bespeaks” instead. And I would have constructed the sentence differently I think.

Foster, engender, establish, promote.

How about perpetuate?

I think the word they meant was “betrays” (which can mean to reveal)

That would work except that “perpetuate” is already used in the phrase so it would be sort of awkward:

“labels some of its ethnic foods with modifications of ‘Joe’ that perpetuate a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes.”

(Riemann was also right about the verb conjugation.)

I see that the NY Times article (below, seen in the Pit thread about this) diplomatically used a direct quote for only a part of that sentence, allowing them to subtly correct the verb (they chose “reflect”).

Those products and others reflect “a narrative of exoticism that perpetuates harmful stereotypes,” according to the petition, which on Sunday had been signed by more than 1,500 people.

Also, I don’t think perpetuate is the semantic intent of the first verb. I think TJ are being accused of creating a narrative of exoticism in their marketing.

For me, the first ‘that’ should be a ‘which’. It’s not the modifications that belie, it’s the whole act of labelling, hence the singular verb. I see this construction a lot but I am not sure if it is formally correct. It does seem inelegant, as you put it.

IMO “betoken” works better than “belie” & keeps the same rhythm. “Signifies” also works if the rhythm doesn’t matter.

The point of the “belies” clause is not that exoticism is a secret exposed. It’s that creating the feeling of exoticism is exactly the point of their TJ’s various ethnic names. The next clause goes on to say that in trying to create exoticism they’re actually just creating bad old-fashioned ethnic stereotyping. IMO “belies” is utterly the wrong word for that mission.

At a meta level I suppose you could argue that the author meant something akin to “this lame attempt at exoticism (over a taco shell in 2020? Give me a friggin break!!) belies the underlying prejudices of the unreconstructed old farts & racists at TJ’s HQ.” That use of “belies” could work.

IMO our author polished his work a little too hard and compressed one too many layers of meaning into a single jam packed sentence that didn’t work in isolation. It only works if you know the editing history that took him there. I’ve never done that. At least not in this post. I don’t think! :wink:

This thread has been educational for me! For some reason I was under the impression that “belie” simply meant “doesn’t explicitly say something, it implies some subtext” - now that I’ve looked up the definition, I see my understanding of it was incorrect. Perhaps the writer had the same misunderstanding of the word that I had. I think the writer intended to express “subtly conveys” or possibly even “unconsciously conveys”.

It’s not a word where the meaning is intuitive, it’s easy to imagine it to mean something similar to “underlie”, to lie physically under something -> to support it, to be the basis for it.

But the etymology of belie turns out to be from lie in the sense of telling an untruth.

The primary meaning of “belie” is "to show to be false; contradict: "

To me, “labels … that belies a narrative of exoticism” would seem to indicate that the store claims that its products are exotic, but the labels demonstrate otherwise.

I don’t know if that is the intended meaning. gives a second definition for belie: to misrepresent. Replacing “belies” in thia context with “misrepresents” works for me.

BTW, it loooks like the hottest trend in American cuisine marketing is exoticism, but it is now hate-speec to reference any exotic connection? How does that work?