What does it mean for someone to be "speaking with a forked tongue"? I've heard it used by my boss when referring to particular customers of ours.
- Anybody can ask a question
- Anybody can answer
- The best answers are voted up and rise to the top
This expression did not originate with television. It has a much longer history, dating possibly to the 17th century. From Wikipedia:
As you can see, Andrew Jackson used the expression in 1829, which was well before television and even radio.
This Google NGram supports the contention that the phrase has existed for a long, long time:
This is a reference to an expression used by American Indian characters in old Western movies and TV series, notably The Lone Ranger.
I've no idea if it's any more than an invention of Hollywood, but it is supposed to be an expression used by the Indians to means that someone is speaking words that can't be trusted. The analogy is with a snake — whose words obviously couldn't be trusted.
The context is usually "White Man speak with forked tongue!"
It means that someone is lying. I always pictured it as a split tongue - one side says one thing and the other another.
Though "speaking with a forked tongue" may be popularly associated with the speech of American Indians in TV and film westerns, the association of forked tongues with lying speech goes far back in English literature, no doubt influenced by the biblical association of the fork-tongued Serpent with the Father of Lies.
Consider Lancelot Andrewes, "Of the Sending of the Holy Ghost," in XCVI. Sermons by the Right Honourable and Reverend Father in God Lancelot Andrewes, Second Edition (1632):
Both Ben Jonson, in The Masque of Queens (1609) and John Milton, in Paradise Lost (1667) take note of the forked tongue in their representation of deceitful or damned beings. In a slight variant on this theme, in The Whores Rhetorick (1683), a character named Madam Creswel finds the serpent's forked tongue responsible not for outright deception but for "poysonous humours":
Likewise, from Presbyterian Church of the U.S.A., "A Narrative of the Revival of Religion, in the County of Oneida" (1826):
And from Lewis Condict, "Address, Delivered by Appointment at Morristown, New-Jersey" (July 4, 1828):
All of these occurrences precede the famous instance in which U.S. President Andrew Jackson addressed the Choctaw Indians and offered them assurances that he did not speak with a forked tongue. (For a disturbing and surprisingly impartial contemporaneous account of what prompted those assurances and how they played out, see the March 1830 and August 1830 issues of The Missionary Herald.)
protected by tchrist Mar 1 '15 at 19:16
Thank you for your interest in this question.
Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).
Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?