Imagine a scenario where Jim provides a piece of information to Sue. Jim believes this information to be true and correct, but is later proven to be mistaken. Some might say that Jim lied to Sue. I believe this to be the wrong word, because the misinformation was unintentional.

Is there a better word for this type of unintentional "lie"?

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    There is no such thing as an unintentional lie. – tchrist Dec 19 '13 at 23:19
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    True, a lie is a falsehood. But asserting a falsehood while believing it to be true is not the act of lying. It is being mistaken. – Cyberherbalist Dec 19 '13 at 23:28
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    @Cyberherbalist: but that's the point - if it's unintentional, it fails the criteria for being a lie. The definition of "lie" includes intent. – Marthaª Dec 19 '13 at 23:59
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    You have it backwards: if the fact I utter is untrue, it's a lie if and only if I know that it is untrue. Otherwise, it's merely an untrue statement. – Marthaª Dec 20 '13 at 0:06
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    @Cyberherbalist The OED, like any other dictionary, defineds a lie as “a false statement made with intent to deceive”. Without intent to deceive, it is not a lie. It just isn’t true, is all. The opposite of true is not lie but false. – tchrist Dec 20 '13 at 0:06

You're right to avoid "unintentional lie", because it's an oxymoron.

lie n.
1. A false statement deliberately presented as being true; a falsehood.
2. Something meant to deceive or give a wrong impression.

As you can see, without the intent to deceive, it can't be called a "lie".

"Falsehood" technically sounds like it could be the neutral word you want, but most people use it as a synonym of "lie".

falsehood n.
1. An untrue statement; a lie.
2. The practice of lying.
3. Lack of conformity to truth or fact; inaccuracy.

OK, so inaccuracy is pretty good: the information is wrong, but the conveyor of the information isn't being accused of anything. A similar word would be untruth.

If what you want is a verb, it's a bit more difficult. You're pretty much stuck rephrasing:

Jim told Sue that [...], but he was mistaken.

Jim unintentionally gave Sue false information.

  • Untruth suffers from the same quality as falsehood -- its meaning can incorporate the unintentional, but is usually associated with a lie. – Gerard ONeill Sep 6 '15 at 13:16

Jim misled Sue. He didn't "lie" to her (because that was not his intent) but he did give her misleading information.




1a : an assertion of something known or believed by the speaker to be untrue with intent to deceive

1b : an untrue or inaccurate statement that may or may not be believed true by the speaker

2 : some[THING] that misleads or deceives

  • Wow -- voted down without comments, despite providing a well known source's definition that includes no intent (for the noun form, not the verb form). Hopefully the vote down was because of a lack of explanation. – Gerard ONeill Sep 6 '15 at 13:26

The word you're looking for is "Confabulation".

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    Your answer would be improved with a link to a dictionary, an explanation of the meaning of this word, and why you think that this word meets the requirement spelled out in the question. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 19 '14 at 21:11
  • As for the merits of the word itself -- Aside from the 'informal chat' definition which doesn't apply, the relevent one seems to only apply in psychiatry -- the filling in of memory gaps with false facts taken as true. Not even close to providing an answer. – Gerard ONeill Sep 6 '15 at 13:35

protected by tchrist Aug 10 '14 at 1:11

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