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Let's say I caused a minor car crash some time ago and today I meet a woman. The conversation goes:

Woman: Hey, I remember that car with the scratch from the crash last week, you must be the one who caused it.

Me: Are you sure? It didn't necessarily have to be me, I see a car with a scratch like this almost every day.

What I was referring to was that I see the car every day when I drive it.

Is there a word for this?

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"The best lie is the truth told unconvincingly". I've seen it attributed to several people, including Mark Twain and George Danker. –  John C Nov 14 '11 at 18:59
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"I always tell the truth, even when I lie" -Scarface –  dotjoe Nov 14 '11 at 19:14
    
What you're doing is typically characterized as dissembling. –  Gnawme Nov 14 '11 at 20:06
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@JohnC, see Sir Humphrey Appleby for excellent examples! ;) –  msanford Nov 14 '11 at 22:38
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Reminds me of a story where someone was calling to get unbiased information about "Frank" and unwittingly ended up speaking to "Frank" himself... "Do you know Frank?" "Yes I know him extremely well"... "Does Frank show up on time?" "Well to tell you the truth I myself don't always show up exactly on time, but I can tell you one thing: whenever I'm there, Frank is there!" –  BlueWhale Nov 15 '11 at 16:07

23 Answers 23

up vote 55 down vote accepted

I never lie. I do, however, occasionally deceive. For example if someone asks me something I don't want to tell them, saying "I don't know" is a lie. Saying "I'm not allowed to tell you" may reveal the information, or encourage them to try harder to get it out of me. But "oh, I really couldn't say" or "yeah, nothing's been announced yet" often cause people to believe that I don't know, even though they are technically not lies.

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+1, simple and on the spot –  Unreason Nov 14 '11 at 14:08
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What you are doing is dissembling. –  Gnawme Nov 14 '11 at 18:46
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I think deceive is more appropriate. Even if it isn't, deception is a more established word, and it doesn't break immersion in the sentence for people who have never heard of dissembling. The flow is better, in my opinion. Unless the sentence is meant to seem a tad snooty, then dissembling would be spot on. –  Bob Nov 15 '11 at 0:25
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For me, deceive is to broad to be an answer - it includes all manner of deception, including simple lying. –  Ed Staub Nov 15 '11 at 20:35
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@EdStaub Yes, I agree to some extent. I also think that "deception" is the end result of the behaviour described in the question rather than the question itself. –  sml Nov 16 '11 at 1:41

Equivocate: To make a statement that is capable of being taken in more than one way, with the aim of exploiting the ambiguity.

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+1 this is the best. –  Erick Robertson Nov 15 '11 at 12:43
    
    
If you are going copy out text verbatim, our Help Center says that you must name where you got the original from, and this post fails to do that. Please see the question on meta entitled “What to do about missing source attributions: Copying, Linking, Attributions, and Plagiarism for discussion on this. –  tchrist Jul 7 at 22:28

I will offer the term disingenuous, which is defined here as:

lacking in frankness, candor, or sincerity

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+1. Disingenuous seems more applicable here, as the "lie" (for lack of a better term) seems more dishonest in the OP's example than I'd normally associate with words like "misleading". –  Adam Robinson Nov 14 '11 at 18:04
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+1 - I think a number of the other suggestions are worthy, but disingenuous strikes the best tone. Not lieing, but deliberately trying not to enlighten someone. –  CJM Nov 15 '11 at 9:37

Prosaically, you are being:

misleading

that is, saying no false hood but leading away from the truth that the other is searching for.

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IMHO, this is the best answer to the specifics of the question. Others have given various synonyms for "lie", but this is the only one that really conveys the idea of telling the truth in a way intended to give the listener a false impression. –  Jay Nov 17 '11 at 17:18

The word obfuscate may apply here.

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Welcome to the site. An upvote to get you started. –  Tom Au Nov 14 '11 at 13:57
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Obfuscate, to me, means to hide the truth among a load of complexity or jargon. –  slim Nov 14 '11 at 14:59
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-1 OP might not need a word that is making things "obscure, unclear, or unintelligible", on the contrary, judging from the example, he is looking for seemingly clear statement that will deceive someone and in such case this nice word is not really appropriate. –  Unreason Nov 14 '11 at 15:07

I would use the word prevaricate:

to speak falsely or misleadingly; deliberately misstate or create an incorrect impression; lie.

Another commonly used word for this same behavior is to fudge, meaning to disingenuously avoid or talk around an issue.

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-1 because the OP asked for a word that would mean telling the truth, yet misdirecting away from the truth. Prevarication is a lie. –  Erick Robertson Nov 15 '11 at 12:42
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It can mean to lie. It can also mean to deliberately create an incorrect impression. (I might note that the top-rated answer, deceive, almost always means to lie; prevaricate often doesn't.) –  onomatomaniak Nov 15 '11 at 17:44

Your example is an instance of a half-truth. Everything he said is true, but he did not tell the whole story.

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A half-truth only gives part of the truth though, from the other comments I think Aaron is looking specifically for telling the full truth while knowing that it will be misinterpreted. On the other hand, you can argue that the full truth would be to say that you were indeed that person. Hm. –  Sverre Rabbelier Nov 14 '11 at 14:35
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Aaron isn't telling the full truth. He's deliberately suppressing facts, yet everything he does say is true. –  slim Nov 14 '11 at 15:44

Not a single word, but the closest idiom I could find is:

economical with the truth

Per Wikipedia:

Economical with the truth is popularly used as a euphemism for deceitful, whether by volunteering false information (i.e., lying) or by deliberately holding back relevant facts. More literally, it describes a careful use of facts so as not to reveal too much information.

I would argue that outright lying is not covered by the phrase. Sir Robert Armstrong famously used the phrase during the Spycatcher trial, claiming that he had not lied -- merely been economical with the truth.

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He's using a red herring!

Source: this web page says:

A Red Herring is a fallacy in which an irrelevant topic is presented in order to divert attention from the original issue. The basic idea is to "win" an argument by leading attention away from the argument and to another topic.

In your question, the original topic is about whether one of the characters (Me) caused a car accident. That person then starts talking something irrelevant -- observations that he/she has made about cars in the past, thus diverting attention from the real question.

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The downvote wasn't from me, but a) this doesn't answer the question, b) I'm not sure if she is employing a red herring, and c) you don't give any explanation why. –  Hugo Nov 14 '11 at 19:22
    
The downvote tooltip is "This answer is not useful" and explanations definitely help. A link to a source is also helpful, as is a explanation of why you think so e.g. maybe you have some insight into some usage of red herring in this case that I or the downvoter hasn't thought of or don't know about. (Also, this answer showed up as an "automatically detected low quality post" on the review tab that might need some help.) –  Hugo Nov 14 '11 at 19:31
    
in that hypothetical example he gave.. Where he wrote "woman:" that's the woman speaking. The misguiding is what he says. So if anything is a red herring, it'd be what he said. –  barlop Nov 15 '11 at 6:59
    
While a red herring can be used to mislead, it doesn't fit the example. A red herring would be something more like replying, "Oh, you were in that crash last week? Do you have insurance?" A red herring isn't a lie; it's an irrelevant side issue. –  Jay Nov 17 '11 at 17:22
    
Correct, which is exactly the point I'm making: an irrelevant, but true, side issue in order to misguide. –  Matt Fenwick Nov 17 '11 at 17:25

There's the moral concept of a" lie by omission". For example, if asked "Did you eat the last cookie out of the jar?" and answer "No" because you palmed it and plan to eat it later, it's technically truthful, but a lie by omission of the detail that you did palm the last cookie even though you didn't yet eat it.

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If the example is crucial to the word you are looking for, let's examine it a bit more closely

A: Hey, I remember that car with the scratch from the crash last week, you must be the one who caused it.

B: Are you sure? It didn't necessarily have to be me, I see a car with a scratch like this almost every day.

So, the crucial point is that 'a car' is used by B to mean 'some car'. However 'some car' in this context, as an argument that helps the statement that "it didn't have to be B" can only mean "a car that is not B's car". Therefore this is not just a deceit, I would still call this a lie (alternatively, it is a contradiction).

There are many definitions of a lie, I don't object to the one given by wikipedia

A lie (also called prevarication, falsehood) is a type of deception in the form of an untruthful statement, especially with the intention to deceive others.

Untruthful is defined as 'not honest or true' in macmillan.

Combining these two definitions it really is not crucial in the given example if the statement can be interpreted by someone as correct representation of reality; what is important is that the statement is not honest and has an intention to deceive. (However, I tried to show in the opening paragraph that the argument can not even be taken as something based on truth).

Wikipedia entry on deceit has the following categories:

  • Lies: making up information or giving information that is the opposite or very different from the truth.
  • Equivocations: making an indirect, ambiguous, or contradictory statement.
  • Concealment: omitting information that is important or relevant to the given context, or engaging in behavior that helps hide relevant information.
  • Exaggeration: overstatement or stretching the truth to a degree.
  • Understatement: minimization or downplaying aspects of the truth

Under this classification you can say that it is equivocation ('a car' is taken to mean 'some car other than mine' and 'my car' at the same time), concealment (the fact that this 'some car' is actually mine is hidden) and understatement (to refer to 'my car' as 'some car' is an understatement). Finally, even under this classification you can call it a lie ('a car' is made up, it is actually 'my car' and saying 'a car was stolen' or 'my car was stolen' is very different).

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Yup, I think you covered all the bases there! –  FumbleFingers Oct 3 '12 at 3:27

I think the second definition give for the word casuistry is dead on:

reasoning that is specious, misleading, or oversubtle

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The only place I've ever heard this word was the (excellent) book "Proofiness," where the author used it to coin a new, equally confusing-sounding term, "causistry." –  BlueRaja - Danny Pflughoeft Nov 14 '11 at 15:56

I think the best way to describe your behaviour is to say you are being evasive. Google defines evasive as:

Tending to avoid commitment or self-revelation, esp. by responding only indirectly
‒ she was evasive about her phone number

This definition seems to aptly describe your situation.

It is also a behaviour seen commonly in politicians when asked a direct question!

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President Bill Clinton coined a new expression regarding questions about himself and "that woman, Monica Lewinsky," for this context. Slightly edited, it is: "Legally accurate but not volunteering information."

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What was that new expression he coined? –  ShreevatsaR Nov 14 '11 at 14:09
    
@ShreevatsaR: What he actually said was, "While my responses were LEGALLY ACCURATE, I did NOT VOLUNTEER INFORMATION." Yours truly shortened it for personal use. –  Tom Au Nov 14 '11 at 15:14
    
I've heard the term "Clintonian" used to mean exactly this - true, but misleading, but I didn't figure I wanted to wade into a political discussion. –  Chris B. Behrens Nov 14 '11 at 16:15
    
We had this come up in another recent Q. The term is "parsing words". –  T.E.D. Nov 14 '11 at 16:44
    
Uh, I remember him saying “I did not have sexual relations with that woman”. That is not “legally accurate”. It’s a straight lie. –  Konrad Rudolph Nov 19 '11 at 14:28

I have also heard the term "Elfish lie", coming from the tales of nature spirits who are unable to lie, but are masters at revealing facts in a misleading way.

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I must chime in with sophistry. Sophists can both tell the truth and deceive at the same time; and sophistry is a good word for the overall tendency.

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I think paradoxical diversion best describes what you're looking for.

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It can be constructed in a way that plays with the semantics and ambiguity, so as to technically not be considered a lie. –  FrankComputerAtYmailDotCom Nov 15 '11 at 5:41
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I'm not familiar with paradoxical diversion; what does it mean and how does it apply to this case? –  Hugo Nov 15 '11 at 9:13
    
Look it up in wiki, I've used the term "Paradoja Judicial" in legal motions, written in Spanish, do describe a Defendant who intentionally makes misleading affirmations in order to detour away from a topic. Its a diversionary tactic or ploy.. It's like a "Red Herring" –  FrankComputerAtYmailDotCom Nov 15 '11 at 14:31
    
The term does not appear in English Wikipedia as of this date: not as a page, not even as a phrase. –  MετάEd Oct 3 '12 at 3:54

Several directly-useful terms already have been suggested, such as derivatives of evade (in its “to avoid by dexterity, subterfuge, address, or ingenuity” sense), deceive (“To trick or mislead”), and mislead (“To lead astray, in a false direction”, “To deceive by telling lies or otherwise giving a false impression” or “To accidentally or intentionally confuse”). I will mention several more verbs that apply:

tergiversate, “To evade, to equivocate using subterfuge; to obfuscate in a deliberate manner.”
waffle, “To speak or write vaguely and evasively.”
palter, “To talk insincerely; to prevaricate or equivocate in speech or actions.”
diddle, in the sense “to cheat; to swindle” rather than a sense like to have sex with or to waste time.
weasel, “To engage in clever or devious behavior.”

The following adjectives also are relevant:
slippery, “Evasive; difficult to pin down.”
cagey, “uncommunicative; unwilling or hesitant to give information.”

Sources: Wiktionary entries

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She implied or insinuated. Though one can imply truthful things, insinuate has a more disingenuous tone.

e.g.

If you had your accountant fill in your tax return, someone could say:

"You didn't fill in your tax returns"

Which is true, it is a fact. You didn't, your accountant did. But the statement implies your tax returns aren't filled in, which is untrue, and as such the truthful statement implies a mistruth.

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No. Implying and insinuating both involve conveying something without outright saying it. The questioner wants a word for avoiding conveying a fact, without telling an untruth (and without refusing to discuss the topic). –  slim Nov 14 '11 at 15:42
    
No, the questioner wants "A word for telling the truth (technically) in order to misguide?". I can thus declare a truthful statement, that implies something that is misguiding, while still being literally true. e.g. "You didn't fill in your tax returns" implies your tax returns aren't filled in, which is misleading because your hypothetical accountant filled them in for you, yet the original statement is a fact, and the truth, albeit misleading. –  Tom J Nowell Nov 14 '11 at 15:48

For fans of Pirates of the Caribbean, Pull an Angelica. She lied to Captain Jack Sparrow by telling the truth.

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A common tactic for telling the truth while intentionally misleading is by using the phrase: "What if I told you..." and variations of this. You can follow that sentence with a blatant lie and, due to technicalities, you can say anything without it being an actual lie.

Below is an example of a lie a history teacher once used to pass his interview:

Interviewer: You seem very personable and all but how much do you actually know about Canada's history? Tell me about John A. MacDonald.

Teacher: Well, I could tell you what your average Canadian knows about how John was Canada's first Prime Minister, how he secured the British North American Act, or how got his hands dirty in the Pacific Scandal and lost his office, but what if I told you that Mr. MacDonald was a rampant alcoholic who preferred his female companions to be between the ages of 11 and 13? What would you say then?

Interviewer: Well, Mr. McGregor, clearly you know even more than I do about our history.

McGregor referred to what he did as intentionally misguiding but he insisted that this was in no way a lie as he technically didn't say anything untruthful.

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You're leading someone to believe in something indirectly. This reminds me of politics. Demagogy may be the answer.

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A more colorful term is a white lie which is a partial truth that hides a much more serious or disturbing one. The recognized definition is that this is a lie of very little consequence told with good intentions in order to cover up a larger truth that might be hurtful.

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As above. And I am looking for a truth told with bad intentions. –  Aaron White Nov 14 '11 at 13:45
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@Mitch: If your personal reading conflicts with every reference and every other person's interpretation, perhaps it's time to revise it. :-) And even you say that a white lie is told to "avoid having to say something bad", i.e., is told with good intentions. What the question wants is something that could by analogy be called a "black truth". –  ShreevatsaR Nov 14 '11 at 14:08
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-1. White lies are not told to hide "more serious or disturbing" truths, not in the sense that your phrasing would apply. They are normally told in order to hide truths that are socially awkward and unpleasant. I would have left it at +0, but you seem to be completely unwilling to fix your answer to match actual common usage. –  jprete Nov 14 '11 at 14:33
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I agree with the downvotes. A white lie is, unambiguously, a lie. –  slim Nov 14 '11 at 14:50
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A white lie is a "good" lie. "No, don't worry, it looks fine" or "I'm sure no-one will notice" or "no offense taken!" or "I'll treasure it always, thank you so much." You are saying something you don't believe, and in some cases don't really expect anyone else to believe, not for your own selfish reasons (a black lie) but to make the other person happier. They are not telling one kind of truth to hide another, they are just lying, but for unselfish reasons. –  Kate Gregory Nov 17 '11 at 17:40

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