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I suspect that the verb to belie here is used to mean to betray. Is that true?

You don’t get a pat on the back for ratcheting down from rabid after exploiting that very radicalism to your advantage. Unrepentant opportunism belies a staggering lack of character and caring that can’t simply be vanquished from memory. You did real harm to this country and many of its citizens, and I will never — never — forget that.

No, Trump, We Can’t Just Get Along

However, doesn't belie mean, at its core, to contradict. Here's what COBUILD Advanced English Dictionary has to say about belie.

  1. If one thing belies another, it hides the true situation and so creates a false idea or image of someone or something. [V n] ⇒ Her looks belie her 50 years.

  2. If one thing belies another, it proves that the other thing is not true or genuine. [V n] ⇒ The facts of the situation belie his testimony.

I am struggling to align the definitions in the dictionary with the way the verb is used by the NY Times article.

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    Nice catch! Mr. Blow blew it. Belie means give the lie to, contradict, or disprove. So you would expect some notion in contrast to opportunism, e.g., unrepentant opportunism belies a claim of charitable feeling. The proper word here is betrays, i.e, reveals.
    – deadrat
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 8:16
  • 1
    deadrat is dead right. Please also note that it can’t be "vanquished" from memory; it could be, for instance, "banished" or "expunged" from memory, meaning "cast out [of[" but "vanquished" means defeated… Then would you trust one who misused an outstanding term like "vanquished" to use any other verb correctly? Commented Dec 14, 2016 at 1:55
  • Belie is commonly used to mean "hide": Cambridge says "to show something to be false, or to hide something such as an emotion". Purists will object, but this sort of process keeps on happening.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 4 at 11:22

3 Answers 3

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The word belie has two common meanings (1 to misrepresent; 2 to give the lie to, that is, to be inconsistent with the veracity of a claim or facade), and, as deadrat has pointed out, always suggests some contrast between its subject and object.

On the other hand, when the subject of the word betray isn't a sentient being, the word always means to reveal.

So, I agree that in that NYT excerpt, ‘belies’ ought to be replaced with ‘betrays’.

Corresponding examples:

✔️ His calm voice belies his nervousness.
❌ His calm voice betrays his nervousness.

✔️ His trembling hands belie his calm voice.
❌ His trembling hands betray his calm voice.

❌ His trembling hands belie his nervousness.
✔️ His trembling hands betray his nervousness.

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Etymologically speaking, it's the same thing. Curiously enough, belie comes from the Old English word beleogan, which meant "to deceive by lies". This, through a bunch of Germanic languages, can be followed back to the Proto-Indo-European root leugh, "to tell a lie". Betray has the same prefix root as belie, but its root can be traced to the Latin word trans (and further back, the PIE word tere), both meaning "across", implying that a betrayer switches sides. If one who switches sides can be equated with one who tells lies (and in both marriage and espionage, it is applicable), then in diachronic linguistics it is the same thing. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines belie as "to represent falsely or hide something", and in many cases this is the same as betrayal. I vote yes. (My heart goes out to etymonline for this explanation)

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  • For the same reasons you cited, I came to the opposite conclusion. Belie focuses on concealing, whereas betray focuses on harm.
    – user105360
    Commented Jan 3, 2017 at 5:52
  • I think belie can be encompassed in betray; therefore they can be used in the same sense, though belie is more specific Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 17:28
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Perhaps the Merriam-Webster offering best brings out the sense in play here:

  • belie [verb; transitive]

...

[3] [disguise, sense [3]]

An air of rural charm … belies the community's industrial activity. —American Guide Series: Pennsylvania

and

disguise

...

[3]: to obscure the existence or true state or character of: conceal

unable to disguise his true feelings [M-W]

So not 'exposes/betrays'; on the contrary, 'masks'.

But the NYT would then be labelling 'unrepentant opportunism' here as at least approaching acceptable ('a ratcheting down from "rabid" ').

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