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When speaking of (alleged) attempts to lie or cover up the truth, someone might say "truth will out," an expression that seems to make no sense: where is the verb?

"Will" can be used as a verb, but it only works in connection with another verb, as in "He wills it to happen." "Out" can also be used as a verb, but it's a transitive verb: "Bob outed Alice as a spy." Neither of these conditions apply in this phrase.

If the word "come" was added in there, we would have "truth will come out," which is both grammatically correct and appears to clearly convey the meaning of the phrase. But it gets used without any verb, which makes the meaning of the phrase a lot less clear.

What exactly does "truth will out" mean, and why is the expression used in such an ungrammatical way?

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    I don’t actually know for sure (never thought about it before), but it seems likely and intuitively correct to me to suppose that this is a remnant of a feature that is common to most Germanic languages, but is no longer there in English: that demotic modals can carry a sense of movement in and of themselves, taking as their argument a simple adverb of location or direction. Compare now old-fashioned expressions like “I must away” in English; in other Germanic languages you can also say “I must home”, “I will in”, etc. Want still partly works like this (“I want out”), too. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 8 '18 at 18:39
  • Though the verb is not used intransitively in this sense in many other expressions, AHD, Collins and RHK Webster's are in agreement that 'truth will out' uses the main verb 'out': << out v.intr. To be disclosed or revealed; come out: Truth will out. >> (AHD). – Edwin Ashworth Feb 8 '18 at 20:16
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    Because they heard someone else say it. – Hot Licks Feb 8 '18 at 23:25
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    There is in fact a long tradition of sayings (apophthegms) cast without any verb at all. It seems to make them striking and memorable. So the famous idea that the body is the tomb of the soul was expressed with the two nouns ‘soma sema’ (σώμα σήμα). Or the early atomist,Democritus wrote: “The cosmos a stage set. Life a stage entry.” (ο κόσμος σκηνή. ο βίος πάροδος). He goes on: “you came on, you saw, you went off again.”. Sound vaguely familiar? But you don’t need a verb to understand just what he meant. So the saying ‘Nothing too much’ (μηδέν αγαν) needs no verb. – Tuffy Feb 8 '18 at 23:50
  • @Tuffy It’s not uncommon for the basic copula of a language (i.e., be in English, εἰμί in Ancient Greek) to be omissible in many perfectly normal situations. English happens not to be one of those languages, but Ancient Greek is, so the fact that some Greek apophthegms have no copula isn’t really an argument for English phrases lacking a verb (especially not a non-copular verb). Besides, ‘truth will out’ does have a verb (or possibly even two). – Janus Bahs Jacquet Feb 10 '18 at 18:38
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It is idiomatic, a the similar expression “murder will out” is from Chaucer (14th c.). The sense appears to be from “out” used as a verb here meaning:

Out:

sense of "disclose to public view, reveal, make known" has been present since mid-14c.

(Etymonline)

Truth will out:

is from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, 1596:

LAUNCELOT: Nay, indeed, if you had your eyes, you might fail of the knowing me: it is a wise father that knows his own child. Well, old man, I will tell you news of your son: give me your blessing: truth will come to light; murder cannot be hid long; a man's son may, but at the length truth will out.

(Phrase Finder)

The phrase "truth will out", or "truth will become public", appears as early as William Shakespeare's works, in particular, the Merchant of Venice. It may have been an entirely new concept of Shakespeare's, as he sees the need to explain its meaning as analogous to murder will out.

(Wiktionary)

From Chaucer, "Nun's Priest's Tale," c.1386:

Mordre wol out that se we day by day.

(Etymonline)

0

The phrase "truth will out" basically means that no matter what one does to cover something up, the truth WILL get out. It is used in such an ungrammatical way because it was quoted from writing by Shakespeare.

  • The answer to the question why is it used in such an ungrammatical way is that it is a phrase quoted from a play by Shakespeare written in blank verse. As such it was never required to follow any particular rules of grammar, and Shakespeare made up his own rules (and his own words, for that matter). – JeremyC Feb 9 '18 at 10:13
  • @AytAyt I am very sorry if I confused you or anyone. I thought that taken together all the responses to the original question had answered it, except for what seemed to me to be the obvious point that normal rules of grammar do not apply to verse - and still less to verse written centuries ago. But for that to be obvious, it has to be realised that the phrase in question is a quotation. Please respond by further comment on what more there is that I could say. I should be very happy to say more. – JeremyC Feb 9 '18 at 23:00

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