What would be a good single-word for:

Someone who tells a lie but he doesn't know he's telling a lie.

Someone who, because of his own ignorance, spreads incorrect lies as universal truth.

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    Pseudo-intellectual. – samuelesque Apr 29 '13 at 14:25
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    Human being. Or person. Or everyone. – RegDwigнt Apr 29 '13 at 14:37
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    I think this is more of a philosophical question than anything. Doesn't lying require knowledge that one is telling a non-truth? Would you accuse some one of lying who is lied to but then passes the information on faithfully? – Mitch Apr 29 '13 at 15:44
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    @PersianCat, there are at least two aspects to the lie: the information content and the frame of mind of the speaker. I agree that the lie conveys incorrect information content. But the interesting part of the question is when the speaker does not know that the information content was incorrect. Perhaps the OP is highlighting the frame of mind of aspect with an "incorrect lie." S/he might be describing a lie where the utterer speaks incorrect information unwittingly, which seems to have less moral problems with knowingly conveying incorrect information in order to deceive. – rajah9 Apr 29 '13 at 16:48
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    Plato has Socrates distinguish between true opinion (lucky accuracy), false opinion (unlucky inaccuracy), and knowledge (accuracy based on fact and reason). It seems to me that the person described in the original poster's question suffers from false opinion. As I note in a comment to rhetorician's answer below, I think that the adjective "deluded" expresses such a person's mental state. – Sven Yargs Apr 29 '13 at 22:34

Single word: mistaken

mistaken adjective
wrong in one’s opinion or judgement:
   she wondered whether she’d been mistaken about his intentions
   • based on or resulting from a misunderstanding or faulty judgement:
      don’t buy a hard bed in the mistaken belief that it is good for you


I don't believe one can be ignorantly dishonest. Such a person as you describe honestly believes what he's saying, but is ignorant of the truth. A less charitable expression than mistaken is speaking from a position of ignorance.

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    I believe it is not inconceivable that a seared (or dead) conscience can inure a person to lying. Such a person could then be described quite accurately as "ignorantly dishonest." Insanity may also accomplish the same thing, I suspect. – rhetorician Apr 29 '13 at 15:51
  • Isn’t mistaken a euphemism for wrong? – tchrist Apr 29 '13 at 18:29
  • Refusing to look at facts or reasons but holding a conclusion anyway is ignorant dishonesty. Such a person doesn't know whether the conclusion is right or wrong but pretends to have knowledge. – user32047 Apr 29 '13 at 19:28
  • @rhetorician: As for people inured to lying, I think you're right about that. But when it goes that far, it may be a better question for psychologists than etymologists. – J.R. Apr 29 '13 at 23:14

The word misfeasance is legal terminology. It refers to someone performing incorrectly even though it is legal. (This is broader than lying when you don't know it's a lie.)

(Misfeasance is contrasted with malfeasance, which is known wrongdoing by a public official.)

If the speaker spoke the truth literally, but intended for the listener to misconstrue the statement, then he spoke a prevarication. (If someone asks about your education, and you say, "I went to Harvard," then you are prevaricating if you merely visited the campus and intended the hearer to think that you were educated there.)

Other possibilities:

telling an innocent lie

telling an unwitting lie

being a tale-bearer

I am reading Living Economics: Yeseterday, Today, and Tomorrow. Peter J. Boettke says

The Keynes of The General Theory was never right when it came to an an economy operates, let alone how to fix it when it teeters during crises.

While Boettke does not use a single word to describe this phenomenon, he might name a Keynesian as someone who "spreads incorrect lies as universal truth."

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    I am quoting the OP here. "Incorrect lie" may be redundant, but perhaps the OP is contrasting with a "baldfaced lie" or a "prevarication." – rajah9 Apr 29 '13 at 16:12
  • Misfeasance is an act, not verbal communication - I don't think it fits the OP's request. – Kristina Lopez Apr 29 '13 at 17:38

How about delusional or deceived?

delusional - adj. form of delusion:
1. a mistaken or misleading opinion, idea, belief, etc ⇒ he has delusions of grandeur
2. a belief held in the face of evidence to the contrary, that is resistant to all reason

self-deception or self-deceit:
the act or an instance of deceiving oneself

Definitions from Collins Dictionary

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    Delusional would not work here; the speaker is repeating a falsehood unknowingly. Bing defines delusion as "a persistent false belief held in the face of strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of a psychiatric condition." The speaker may have a "persistent false belief," but at the moment of the utterance does not have "strong contradictory evidence, especially as a symptom of a psychiatric condition." – rajah9 Apr 29 '13 at 16:53
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    Perhaps not "delusional," for the reasons Martha* gives, but I think that "deluded" is quite apt. "Delude" means (according to Merriam-Webster's Eleventh Collegiate Dictionary (2003), "to mislead the mind or judgment of: deceive, trick." A deluded person believes—and may very well say—what is not true as a result of having been misled in mind or judgment. – Sven Yargs Apr 29 '13 at 22:26
  • @Jo Bedard and Marthaa: Thanks for the citations and definitions. Do you think the words I've suggested are apt? I'm a little ambivalent myself. On the other hand, my comments above regarding a seared conscience, I feel, are apt and on point. – rhetorician May 1 '13 at 18:04
  • The op gave two different definitions; for the first one: "Someone who tells a lie but he doesn't know he's telling a lie" delusional or self-deceiving could work, depending on the context. – P. O. May 1 '13 at 19:04

A "gossip" is someone who spreads information that may or may not be true, making the gossiper an unwitting liar if the information they're spreading is false.


Unverified/incorrect information could be called misinformation. (The Free Dictionary distinguishes it from disinformation, the intentional spread of false information.) One who spreads misinformation is a misinformer.


at first glance i would have said obvious liar, as someone who tries to lie about a known or obvious truth.


Uninformed is an alternative. There has to be a certain amount of arrogance to inadvertently spread untruths.


An ignoramus - "an ignorant or uneducated person." (Chambers Dictionary)

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