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According to Merriam-Webster, a half-truth is 'a statement that mingles truth and falsehood with deliberate intent to deceive', yes, but a bit of searching shows that on-line dictionaries don't have an entry for half-falsehood, and so, in the lack of this definition, the first thing to come to my mind is that one could define it the same way a half-truth is defined 'a statement that mingles truth and falsehood with deliberate intent to deceive'.

Maybe it is so, however a doubt arose as to whether in a half-falsehood there is a 'deliberate' intent to deceive.

I don't know why, but I'm under the impression that one utters a half-falsehood in order to save themselves rather then to deceive other persons, let alone to deliberately deceive them.

Therefore, what's the difference between a half-truth and a half-falsehood?

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  • user8, but M-W doesn't say that a false-truth put the focus on the truth.
    – user51029
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 14:22
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    I think one would decide to use "half-falsehood" only to draw attention to the dark side of the half-truth! For example: "every half-truth is equally a half-falsehood". It might not be a good idea to use it instead of "half-truth", as it doesn't convey a different meaning.
    – Nate
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 15:04
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    It's hard to say what the difference is since 'half-falsehood' is not a common saying (or a saying at all) and so its semantics are underspecified. If you want to know what 'half-falsehood' -should mean, that's another question and very much a discussion.
    – Mitch
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 16:47
  • @Mitch, but a "half-truth" implies that there is another half, and that other half must necessarily be a "half-falsehood", so, at least, they aren't the same thing semantically speaking.
    – user51029
    Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 17:09
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    Someone has said, "A half-truth is a whole lie!" Maybe they're right (except perhaps in statements that contain diplomatic language, such as when your wife asks you "Do I look fat in this dress?" and you say "No, my dear, you look fantastic!"). Commented Sep 16, 2013 at 18:49

7 Answers 7

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One should understand that to call something a falsehood is not the same as to call it false. As Merriam-Webster has it, a falsehood is

1: an untrue statement : lie

2: absence of truth or accuracy

3: the practice of lying : mendacity

That is, two of the three listed meanings explicitly indicate deception. So in theory, both a half-truth and half-falsehood could refer to something said that mixes truth and falsehood with the intent to deceive.

In practice, however, half-truth is a set phrase, and just as English speakers would not use downside-up and outside-in for the conceptually equivalent upside-down or inside-out, half-falsehood has no currency.

Someone who tells a mix of true and false things with no intent to deceive believes they are telling the whole truth. But we might say of the statement:

They were half-right.

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None, other than the fact that half falsehood is clumsy and not something you'd ever hear an English speaker say.

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It's similar to a glass half full or half empty. It depends one how you look at that kind of situation, optimistically or pessimistically.

With half-truth and half-falsehood, use of one or the other indicates which end the person might have been coming from. In general use, half-lie might be more familiar when coming from the other end of truth.

He tried to convince himself that it wasn't a blatant lie. It was only a half-lie.

She knew it was only a half-truth but she contented herself with the thought that it was true enough.

As others have said, half-falsehood is not a set phrase, so it jumps out. There could be occasions when a writer would want to use it for that very reason, but those occasions would be rare and the context and tone would have to be well-crafted if it is to jump out in a good way.

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I think it's evident that you have invented the term, and the concept, of half-falsehood, for some purpose of your own. What purpose that might be, I cannot say. I will say it is the sort of thing one might do in discussion in a philosophy class, more commonly than in a linguistics class, I would think, but I'm not comfortable with the idea of inventing terminology that simply isn't a part of the language and then asking what it means. Why not invent any word you like and ask what it means? Is that a valid way to use this site? I would say not.

How about neologism? That's a valid word. Do you know what it means?

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  • But Google Books has 17.000 to 71.000 hits for 'half-falsehood'! And why are Anglophones so happy that English evolves if everytime someone proposes a new reliable word they erect a wall against this evolution? Hypocrisy?
    – user51029
    Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 20:24
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    You have an excellent point! But create a word that fills a need, or has some other really good justification for its existence. We're always happy to see that. Commented Sep 17, 2013 at 20:54
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    @user51029 While I can't speak for all users, I'd say it's not so much that we're erecting a wall against the evolution of language as that this particular evolution is so new that we can't answer questions about it, and so obscure that it might never catch on, and so we might never be able to answer questions about it, making a question about it on this site pointless. Many of us have no objection to neologisms, but we do tend to object to unanswerable questions on a Q&A site.
    – user867
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 2:43
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I have not heard the term half-falsehood in current usage.

Half-truth has analogous connotation and denotation to "poisoned food": it is a mixture of truth and falsehood, but the answer is not the same as a teacher would use in saying, "half-right" and assigning partial credit. "Half-right" says that there is something worth recognizing, even though it's not 100% right; "half-truth" speaks of the bait on a hook: the meat used as bait may have been perfectly good on its own, but it is conscripted to the service of falsehood. And on that score, the difference between "half-truth" and "lie" is a difference of strategy to the same goal and not two different goals. By contrast, a teacher's "half-right" demonstrates a partial, if admittedly incomplete, achievement of something that should be approved of.

In other words, half-truth is not completely defined by saying it tells how much truth there is. A complete definition would take into account that it says that truth and falsehood alike are conscripted into doing a lie's job.

Cross-reference the mathematical treatment of game-theoretical semantics, where not all statements can be pinned down as true or false.

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Telling a lie is not the same thing a not telling the truth, in part or in its entirety.

That said, the meanings of half-truth and half-falsehood should be directly visible from the main word in them: truth/ falsehood.

When you utter a half-truth, you are stating only a part of the truth and probably filling in with blah.

When you utter a half-falsehood on the other hand, part of what you say is a lie. If the rest of it is true, that's only incidental.

Untruth is inherent in a half-falsehood, but not necessarily so in a half-truth.

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Here is the difference: in half-truth the intent is to deceive while in half-falsehood the intent is to save. Just like this statement i heard from someone, "i have to tell a lie to protect the truth". He said to protect not to conceal; therefore, he wants to save someone or something from whatever implications the truth may bring.