I had a discussion about the English language with a couple of native speakers (all British) and we got into the topic of lies. One of them said something along the line of:

A white lie is a small lie told with the intention of not hurting the listener.

This goes in line with what's on the corresponding wikipedia page:

White lies are minor lies which could be considered to be harmless, or even beneficial, in the long term.

However, me and another native speaker thought that white lie is something different:

A white lie is when you still tell a truth, but in such a way that you still conceal what you wanted to conceal without actually telling falsehood.

Then I remembered that I've seen this definition before from The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, at the beginning of chapter 79:

When I got home Father was sitting at the table in the kitchen and he had made my supper. [..]
He said, "Where have you been?"
And I said, "I have been out."
This is called a white lie. A white lie is not a lie at all. It is where you tell the truth but you do not tell all of the truth.

To put things into context here, he concealed the fact that he was out investigating the incident, yet he didn't lie because he was indeed outside of the house.

If white lie is as described on the wikipedia, then my question is: what's the one that me and the other native speaker thought to be "white lie" that was also described in the Curious Incident?

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    The definition you describe, of telling a truth to conceal something is not at all the definition of "White Lie" as I understand it and have used all my life, which corresponds to "A white lie is a small lie told with the intention of preventing hurting the feelings of the listener". What you are describing is "disingenuous" behaviour: dictionary.reference.com/browse/disingenuous?s=t – Marv Mills Dec 19 '14 at 13:33
  • I've been thinking of deceit, would it also works? I do think that these are a little negative however, since it could also be as small and as minor as a typical white lie. – Little Pillow Dec 19 '14 at 13:40
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    So, the mentally-challenged narrator of "The Curious Incident" got it wrong. – GEdgar Dec 19 '14 at 15:46
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    For what it means, the definition you know has also been the definition I have always used and heard. Perhaps this may be a regional thing? – Vality Dec 19 '14 at 22:09
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    @sllnJin - 'A minor deceit' would cover it very well. – Erik Kowal Dec 20 '14 at 1:54

The term closest to what is described in the story is "lie by omission".

“”You told the truth up to a point, but a lie of omission is still a lie. Lying by omission, otherwise known as exclusionary detailing, is lying by either omitting certain facts or by failing to correct a misconception. Lying by omission - RationalWiki

A white lie is different, as it is a true lie, but told for presumably socially correct motives. As in the answer you give your girlfriend if she asks if she looks fat in that dress she has on.

  • Ok, now I don't know what to do with which answer to accept; both lie by omission and half-truth sounds equally fitting. I'll look around the FAQ for appropriate action to take. – Little Pillow Dec 19 '14 at 23:00
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    If you want to emphasize the lie, mine is best. If you want to put a good face on it, then the other. – Oldcat Dec 19 '14 at 23:02
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    This is the closest answer. It was a lie by omission, but also a white lie. The lie wasn't intended to deceive, so much as protect the father from undue concern. You can have white lie by omission, you just wouldn't call it that. – Carl Smith Dec 19 '14 at 23:07

What is described in the passage you provided is actually referred to as a "half-truth". A white lie is when you tell someone their outfit looks nice when there's no time for them to change it.

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    Half-truth is more explicit to the OP's request than just being dishonest or any of its synonyms. – Mazura Dec 19 '14 at 17:21
  • I agree that this fits the description nicely and does not carry strong negative connotations that a typical white lie also lacks. – Little Pillow Dec 19 '14 at 17:52

I think the term you really want instead of "white lie" is:

prevaricate v be deliberately ambiguous or unclear in order to mislead or withhold information

(noun form: prevarication)

So it's not actually telling an outright lie, but constructing a narrative that leads the listener to infer something that is not true. When someone discovers the truth, the liar's defense would be to say "I never actually said that." (Which is a true statement, even though the intent was to deceive.)

See TheFreeDictionaryOnline

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