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Is the noun liar considered offensive? Would it be offensive to use it with a proven liar?

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If you call me a liar, you'd better smile when you say that, pardner. Them's fightin' words where I come from. –  Robusto Jan 21 '11 at 20:07
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9 Answers

Calling someone a liar is making a very aggressive statement. If you do so in a bar, don't be surprised if you get a beer bottle upside the head. If you call someone a liar in person or in print, you'd better be able to prove your contention (as @ssaki points out). Either way, don't expect any useful dialogue to ensue after that point.

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Plus one for "aggressive" rather than offensive. It's not generically offensive, but likely to offend the object of your statement/accusation. –  bikeboy389 Jan 21 '11 at 20:42
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I just pictured Jim Carrey having at me with a beer bottle... –  RegDwigнt Jan 21 '11 at 20:51
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+1 for "don't expect any useful dialogue to ensue after that point". –  Marthaª Jan 21 '11 at 21:35
    
A fibber might be a softer synonym. –  Brad Sep 27 '13 at 21:44
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The noun ‘liar’ is not itself an offensive word in the same way that, say, shit or bitch are — in those cases, the words themselves are (to many people) offensive independently of their meanings. (This is quite silly, as George Carlin probably said best, but it is nonetheless the case.)

With liar, the word is no more offensive or derogatory than its meaning. However, to say that someone is a liar is a real slur on their character: this is the sense in which liar is offensive.

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Agreed. It's not so much offensive as an insult/accusation on their character. –  Noldorin Jan 23 '11 at 22:23
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As a native speaker of American English, I would consider it offensive to be called a liar whether it was true or not. You also need to be careful when accusing someone of lying that you don't get into a situation where you are guilty of slander or libel. Even though you consider someone a "proven" liar, the courts may disagree. Laws in your area may differ.

The best way to handling this situation is with diplomacy. For instance, saying,

"I'm not sure that's true."

or

"What are the facts behind that claim?"

, etc. This way you can put the speaker on the spot to back up a claim without actually calling them a liar. In addition, you may get them to admit what they are saying is not entirely true.

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That depends on the situation. In the case of a noisy debate, where you want to clearly convey to the audience that your opponent is dishonest, it's best to say so loudly and clearly. "I'm not sure that's true" won't cut it. "Do you have any evidence to back up that claim?" might be better. –  TRiG Jan 21 '11 at 20:11
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Everyone lies, whether it's a little white lie or a big whopper.

You wouldn't label someone a liar unless they lie habitually.

Calling someone a liar, then, is not making a factual statement about some fib they told last week, but rather is making a judgment about their character, which is why the word carries such a strong connotation and why most native speakers would take offense if you called them a liar.

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Liar = One who lies

You said that Santa Claus was real. You told me a lie!

You exaggerated about how much money you make when I asked. You're a liar.

I think English speakers want to be very specific about lies. If called out, I think most would prefer that the particular lie be called out instead of being characterized as a liar. The english language doesn't really specify how many lies a person has to tell in order to become a "liar". Technically, telling one lie makes you a liar, but the word liar has the connotation that you tell lies on a frequent basis, and that is a reflection of your character.

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So That's a lie is probably better than You're a liar. –  TRiG Jan 21 '11 at 20:09
    
Yes. "That was a lie" is technically better than that, because that means the lie happened in the past, not now. It further distances the lie from the person, and minimizes the perceived blame. –  Zoot Jan 21 '11 at 20:21
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In general, a noun is more offensive than an adjective. (Compare "He is a Jew" to "He is Jewish" or "This house was owned by a couple of gays" to "This house was owned by a gay couple" for example.) I don't know exactly why it is like that, but I guess part of it is that when you stick a noun label on someone you are declaring it the most relevant piece of information, enough to categorize them. The other constructs almost carry a sense of "this is just one piece of information". There is a difference between "you are lying" and "you are a liar" - and almost everyone would be offended by the latter even if they were lying during the conversation in question.

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There’s a confusion of cause and effect here. The term “liar” in itself isn’t offensive (unlike, say, “asshole” or other cusswords) – lying is: people have this absurd expectation to be told the truth.

So when you call somebody out as a liar, you lay bare his offense. And since that has such dire consequences, calling somebody “liar” in vain is considered very offensive in itself, because it’s such a serious accusation.

All that just to highlight the difference between words that are meant to be insulting and a word like “liar” which is a statement of facts. It only becomes insulting if it is used to make defamatory false claims.

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Define "proven liar."

Without context, "liar" makes me think of someone who lies, usually habitually, for personal gain, often at the expense of others. This might include someone who lies about his experience to get a job for which he's not qualified, or who falsely accuses a coworker of stealing to get that coworker fired.

Calling this kind of person a liar will offend that person, even though the accusation's true. After all, it's hard for him to gain from his lies when people stop believing them.

Will other people be offended? It's hard to say, but it helps a lot if others believe you and feel the accusation's appropriate. Just be aware that "liar" isn't a trivial accusation.

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Offensive, no (whether true or not).

Wounding, yes.

Calling someone a liar is the superlative of provocation, because it frames everything that they say as deliberately false and thus worthless.

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