Sometimes one intends to lie and says something that she thinks it is false. But, unbeknownst to her, that is in fact true. Is there any word for such kind of lying/truthfulness?

I have collected almost a dictionary about different forms of lying, but for this kind I just didn't find anything. Besides, I couldn't find the same question here.


This is an example of a Gettier Problem, "a landmark philosophical problem with our understanding of knowledge". Gettier published his original paper in 1963, and people are still arguing about it. It's possible that someone writing in an obscure philosophical journal has labeled the exact case you describe, but if so, the term hasn't passed into general use.

The core of the Gettier Problem is whether the listener "knows" what they have been told. If knowledge is defined as "true, justified belief", there are many examples (such as your own) where the justification rests on incomplete information, e.g. the listener not being aware that the speaker was lying.

In the absence of a general term, there are specific terms that are relevant in certain contexts.

In a spy novel, for example, it could be a double deception, since the speaker's own notions of true and false may have been manipulated by a third party. As a source of spy lingo involving multiple levels of deception, there's Wilderness of Mirrors.

In a farce (something lighter with a happier ending), there are works like The Importance of Being Earnest, where the deception known to the audience but "unknown" to the characters. In art and in life, this could be described as farcical deception.


There may be a phrase (e.g. "inept lying by commission") but there isn't a single word.

You don't have to let that stop you, though. If you have enough academic clout, you can do what Rogers, Zeckhauser, Gino, Norton, and Schweitzer just did in 2016 at Harvard and UPenn: take a little-known synonym for lying and simply completely redefine it. Ms Gino even had the cojones to redefine it online while including a link to a dictionary entry that doesn't include her claimed definition as any sense of the word. If you have enough clout, such a sense can then be picked up by the Harvard Business Review, The Washington Post, and random relationship websites.

The beautiful part is that, if it catches on, it eventually does get written up in the dictionaries and it turns out you were never lying in the first place.

  • Or maybe I have to redefine a little-known synonym for truthfulness. – user233847 May 28 '17 at 21:59
  • @user233847 That would work too. The important part is working for the Ivy League and having a press release for your peer-reviewed paper. – lly May 28 '17 at 22:30
  • Did they really need to use "paltering"? They could have just used "manipulation" or "bending the truth"? In my case, however, there is no word at all. – user233847 May 29 '17 at 4:37
  • @user233847 They wanted to give it their particular gloss, which manipulation and bending the truth don't capture. What they could have done was coin their own word, but instead they opted to just lie about what an existing word meant. Since it's obscure, they not only got away with it but got written up in papers of record and mentioned here. – lly May 29 '17 at 9:22

I would say : Bad faith n 1. intention to deceive; treachery or dishonesty (esp in the phrase in bad faith) 2. (Philosophy) Also called: mauvaise foi (in the philosophy of the 20th-century French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre) self-deception, as when an agent regards his actions as conditioned by circumstances or conventions in order to evade his own responsibility for choosing them freely. http://www.thefreedictionary.com/Bad+faith

Perhaps "Bad faith" is not quite correct, it is upside down
while she tells the truth. one don't know wheter she unconsciously knew
(or not) it was true

cognitive dissonance n. Psychology The psychological tension that occurs when one holds mutually exclusive beliefs or attitudes and that often motivates people to modify their thoughts or behaviors in order to reduce the tension.

  • Aside from its philosophical sense, which is entirely separate, bad faith doesn't get at the heart of what OP is asking about since it's just talking about the intent to deceive (particularly oneself) regardless of the truth content of the statements. It's no more specific to the request than any word about lying, deception, prevarication, etc. – lly May 28 '17 at 21:07
  • 1
    @cognitive dissonance: That's just an entirely separate beast which has nothing whatsoever to do with the truth value of one's beliefs or statements. – lly May 29 '17 at 9:19

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.