The statement that inspired the question was "Newton was wrong [about the laws that govern movement]". Although some exceptions have been found to Newton's laws since he discovered them and thus the statement is true, the laws are still taught and used, making the statement misleading.

Another example would be "I've never lost at chess" when the speaker has never played a game of chess.

  • 3
    What is wrong with just 'misleading'?
    – Mitch
    May 23 '17 at 21:07
  • 1
    Also, deceptive.
    – xiota
    May 31 '18 at 20:15
  • 1
    Violating the maxim of quantity (not providing some 'essential' information) and arguably that of manner (not using default senses of expressions). Sep 2 '20 at 15:56

10 Answers 10


The first word that comes to mind is half-truth, which Merriam-Webster describes as:

a statement that is only partly true and that is intended to deceive people

The examples you give certainly contain truth, but not the complete truth. By leaving out some relevant part of the truth, the statements become indeed deceiving.

  • Variant: partial-truth (which may be preferred when we want to avoid suggesting that there's some parity between the level of truth and falsehood).
    – Nat
    Sep 2 '20 at 14:45
  • Half-truth seems to be more fitting >So if Lewis had actually told a half-truth, then the reality must be even worse than they had thought. lengusa.com/sentence-examples/half-truth?fbs=1,0,0 Jan 10 at 23:42

This is what can be referred to as a lie of omission.

"Also known as a continuing misrepresentation, a lie by omission occurs when an important fact is left out in order to foster a misconception. Lying by omission includes failures to correct pre-existing misconceptions. When the seller of a car declares it has been serviced regularly but does not tell that a fault was reported at the last service, the seller lies by omission. It can be compared to dissimulation."

These are somewhat different in that it's not an active lie, and everything stated is accurate, but allows the listener to draw their own (likely erroneous) conclusions.


I like subterfuge:


1.0 deception by artifice or strategem in order to conceal, escape, or evade

2.0 a deceptive device or stratagem

In this context the etymology suggests secretly fleeing the truth beneath the surface of the true statement:

1570s, from Middle French subterfuge (14c.) or directly from Medieval Latin subterfugium "an evasion,"

from Latin subterfugere "to evade, escape, flee by stealth,"

from subter "beneath, below;" in compounds "secretly"

(from PIE **sup*-ter-, suffixed (comparative) form of *(s)up-; see sub-) + fugere "flee" (see fugitive (adj.)).

Lawyers say: suppressio veri, which is Latin for suppressing truth, and is considered a false statement.


I'm more interested in the chess example.

I don't consider "I've never lost a game of chess" when you haven't played a game of chess, to be a half truth at all. I believe it is the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

However, I still think it is misleading.

But I think it is the standard assumptive social norms that people habitually intuit that cause them to be misled. People mislead themselves by being presumptuous about the purpose of the speaker.

Basically: It is merely due to the fact that most people when they say "I have never lost a game of chess." do so in reference to games they have already played. It's simply weird and socially abnormal and quirky to say "I've never lost a game of X" where X is a game one has never actually played.

It's implicit bias in favor of social norms and against social quirks or abnormalities that causes this.

Nothing wrong with being socially abnormal (or rather, non-normal considering the negative connotation of 'abnormal')... provided that you are not being anti-social

It's possible to be pro-social but still socially abnormal. I do it all the time.

As long as the speaker isn't intentionally trying to mislead by saying "I've never lost a game of chess" when they haven't played, and as long as soon as they realize the listener is being misled by what they've said, they follow it up with "But of course that's because I've never played a game" (and such an odd and quirky/non-socially-normal statement can actually lead to laughter on behalf of the listener and hence be both socially odd and thankfully prosocial) then it is fine.

Lots of love from,

Mike the dude who probably has Aspergers Syndrome and is getting tested for it soon

P.S. I like being me.

  • This. When I tell someone that I don't like something, I don't mean that I dislike it. I neither like nor dislike it. If I dislike something, I say that I dislike it.
    – Davo
    May 23 '17 at 20:58

Since Newton's statements were made, they have been determined to be truthful (not half-truths, subterfuge, or deceptive) with qualifications.

The intentional omission of the qualifying conditions that make a statement true might be considered a deception, but generally, when it comes to facts like you give in your example, this isn't the case.

Statements made with no qualifications as said to be absolute, unqualified, or unequivocal.



  1. Deception by use of trickery, quibbling, or subterfuge.
  1. (countable, law) A slick performance by a lawyer.

Note that this doesn't apply in all cases.


Sometimes when someone does something wrong, it's hard to firmly establish what happened or/and their intent. Accusing them of a specific wrong-doing can give them an opportunity to establish doubt by arguing that that specific wrong-doing isn't provable.

For example, say a politician has a habit of making dubious statements in loose language. It might be dangerous to accuse them of lying, because sympathetic observers might feel it unfair to call someone a liar when:

  • it's possible to interpret a statement as true;

  • the politician may've been trying to tell the truth but made an honest mistake;

  • the politician may've been trying to say something true but accidentally misworded something;

  • the politician may've been speaking hyperbolically or otherwise loosely rather than literally.

If the politician's words reach a large audience, then different segments of that audience may prefer different explanations, making it hard to sustain a generally agreeable accusation of a specific explanation.

Hence the definition chicanery broadly referring to the general practice of trickery, quibbling, subterfuge, or sophistry(source). This allows us to say, e.g., that a politician is chicanerous without having to debate whether they're lying, deceiving, misleading, miscommunicating, etc., or some combination thereof.




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



Lacking in candor

also: giving a false appearance of simple frankness : CALCULATING

Her recent expressions of concern are self-serving and disingenuous.

A disingenuous remark might contain some superficial truth, but it is delivered with the intent to deceive or to serve some hidden purpose. Its base word ingenuous (derived from a Latin adjective meaning "native" or "freeborn") can describe someone who, like a child, is innocent or lacking guile or craftiness. English speakers began frequently joining the negative prefix dis- with ingenuous to create disingenuous during the 17th century. m-w

Moving onto the slogan "All Lives Matter," the statement is inherently disingenuous, because it can't be true that all lives matter until BLM tool. T. Bouley and A. Reinking; Implicit Bias (2021)

Industrial polluters, including Eskom, often argue that fitting sulphur-control technologies to their smokestacks would be bad for climate change. This is disingenuous because the known effects of sulphur dioxide on human and environmental health are well documented, while the climate-benefitting effects of sulphur dioxide are small relative to the climate change-driving effects of the other emissions they produce. Mary Scholes et al.; Climate Change (2015)


I think it is called a hyperbole... or an overstatement.

  • 2
    Welcome to English Language and Usage. A good answer should show some research and sources.
    – Cascabel
    Mar 28 '17 at 3:15
  • 1
    Welcome to English Language & Usage! We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Please explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.
    – NVZ
    Mar 28 '17 at 7:25
  • That is, we're looking for expert answers.
    – MetaEd
    Mar 28 '17 at 16:55

specious - superficially plausible, but actually wrong.

  • 2
    The OP explicitly wants a word something that is, among other things, true as opposed to wrong.
    – Mitch
    May 23 '17 at 21:07

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