23

Someone is saying that he feels "misled" due to false or imprecise information given to him. Does that choice of words imply that from his perspective this false information was given intentionally or at least carelessly?

  • 3
    What did you find when you looked up 'misled' in a dictionary? – Davo Feb 13 at 21:37
  • 12
    Used without qualification it generally implies intent. But "unintentionally misled" is often used when the actions of the misleader were apparently not intentional, and "intentionally misled" is sometimes used to remove any ambiguity. – Hot Licks Feb 13 at 22:31
  • 2
    So allow me to pun here, but, your question and your body don't match... So, this is a misleading question. – psosuna Feb 14 at 19:48
  • 1
    @realtime I suppose so, but it really depends which of the two you'd like answered! So, say for example, if your question is what's in the body, I might title it 'Do the words "I feel misled" imply a feeling of intent, with respect to the speaker's point of view?' But then again, only you know what you mean to ask. I hope you're not taking the tongue-in-cheek pun as rude, by the way. If so, I apologize. – psosuna Feb 14 at 21:01
  • 1
    Are we in a court of law, or some other specialized environment? The word has technical meanings, so the context of usage is very important. – Wayfaring Stranger Feb 15 at 4:51
40

I would argue for no: mislead doesn't imply intent, though it's certainly compatible with it.

When I tell someone "Sorry if I misled you", I'm not admitting an act of deception; I'm saying that I said something that may have given them a misunderstanding.

When we say "unintentionally misled" or "accidentally misled", this is not a contradiction in terms; it merely means that someone unintentionally led someone else to misunderstand something. "Intentionally misled", likewise, is not redundant.

When we speak of a "misleading example", the example obviously has no intent, but furthermore, the person who gave the example usually had no intent to deceive, either. (But sometimes they did. I recommend looking through the Google Books hits for this one; in most cases it's clear that it was unintentional, but in some cases it can be read as intentional or at least suspicious.)


Edited to add: In a comment to this answer, lbf points out that all of these examples have context. This was obviously intentional on my part — the context is what provides evidence of how it's meant to be understood — but it's a fair point that sometimes a word or phrase ordinarily suggests something narrower than it necessarily requires, such that context can completely change what's being suggested; for example, if I say "We lost the game", you'll assume it was unintentional (to the point that "We unintentionally lost the game" will usually sound odd), but "We intentionally lost the game" is not a contradiction. Conversely, if I say "I turned the machine on", you'll assume it was intentional (to the point that "I intentionally turned the machine on" will usually sound odd), but "I accidentally turned the machine on" is not a contradiction.

I think that, barring such context, mislead can really go either way; the results of a Google Books Search for "mislead investigators", for example, seem to be pretty evenly split between cases of seeming intentional deception and cases where such an interpretation is not possible. Neither "intentionally misled" nor "unintentionally misled" sounds odd.

In your example, "I feel misled", I would expect that the speaker has chosen this phrasing specifically so as to avoid suggesting that it was necessarily intentional; otherwise he would more likely say "I feel lied to", or at least "I feel that you misled me." But that doesn't mean that the speaker doesn't think it was intentional — merely that he's decided not to phrase his statement in a way that too strongly suggests that it was.

  • 5
    In further support for the "No" answer, I might be misled by an inanimate object (e.g. a sign that had been turned around by a strong wind), it would not make sense to say the sign intended to mislead me. – Jeffrey Kemp Feb 14 at 3:13
  • @JeffreyKemp: Very true! Though inanimate examples can be misleading, because we'll often say things like "This door doesn't want to open" even when we know that it doesn't really have volition. – ruakh Feb 14 at 6:26
  • 2
    a sign intends to mislead? anthropomorphism. All of your examples have context: unintentional, accidental – lbf Feb 14 at 14:34
  • 1
    Fully agreed. "Lie" directly suggests intent. The context around "mislead" may imply intent, but the word itself does not. – TimothyAWiseman Feb 14 at 16:59
  • This answer got many votes, but I am not quite comfortable with it because: 1. "Sorry if I misled you." could well be an ironizing exaggeration. 2. The inanimate examples do not fit my question since it states "information given to him", i.e. there is another person involved. – realtime Feb 14 at 20:21
14

I would argue for yes.

Though it isn't for certain that the action of providing imprecise information is actually intentional, from the point of view of the person saying that they feel misled implies a wrong direction from the provider of the information to the recipient.

If the misinformation caused the person saying this to be in a state of error, and the recipient acknowledges that the action was not deliberate, and that the information as they received it was of a different nature than their original perception, then they weren't misled, they simply otherwise misunderstood.

  • 5
    I'd argue that being misled also requires that the receiver of the information believes that the giver is under an obligation to provide true and correct information. E.g. if I ask for train times from a member of the railroad staff and get incorrect information then I'd feel misled, if I just ask another traveller and get incorrect information then I've been misinformed. – KillingTime Feb 13 at 21:45
  • 4
    If a fellow traveller tells you the incorrect arrival time deliberately, and you impute no dishonesty to them, that's not just a misunderstanding, you've been misled. You won't know about it until you miss your train. Even if the information-giver was completely honest but mistaken, you have been misled. "cause (someone) to have a wrong idea or impression." "1. To lead in the wrong direction." No dictionary definition requires dishonesty or deception to be involved, though it often may be the case. We can see this when when we use the word for inanimate objects: "That photo is misleading." – Zebrafish Feb 13 at 22:34
  • Regardless of whether the act of misinformation happens with or without malicious intent, the perception of being misled is personal and removed from the act. It explains the feeling of being deliberately lied to, regardless of authority, and regardless of actual intent. To have been misinformed may often cause the feeling of having been misled, unless the person knows that the misinformation was not deliberate, in which case it can be understood to either be bad information or a misunderstanding arising from dubious information. – psosuna Feb 13 at 22:42
  • 1
    You start by saying "Though it isn't for certain that the action of providing imprecise information is actually intentional". Therefore, by definition there is the posibility that the misinformation was UNINTENTIONAL. If that is so then the correct answer is NO. It doesn't matter that in many cases the answer is YES. What matters is that there is the possibility of the misinformation being unintentional. – Robert Cline Feb 14 at 16:46
  • 2
    If I was giving instructions to someone over the phone I might say "Go along Smith Street and take the third turning on the left" without realising that he was facing in the opposite direction from the one I thought he was facing. He would then be seriously misled; but my only fault would be one of omission for not checking his direction on Smith St, not one of intention to mislead. – BoldBen Feb 15 at 13:24
11

Interestingly enough, many 'knowledge'-describing words are somewhat vague. 'True' and 'false' are incontrovertible (except when people are using them sloppily) but between those two there's a lot of room.

When a statement by a person is wrong, there are many internal states of the utterer that are relevant. Of the ways to say a falsehood, in some vague order of malevolence, there's lying, 'white lie', misleading, wrong.

A lie is flat out intentionally and consciously wrong. The liar is a lying bastard and totally meant to say that. "I did not steal that money, that guy did." He's just trying to shift blame.

A 'white liar' is saying something that is not true, but mostly when the truth is somehow not actionable and will only make the hearer feel bad. "You'll get back all your money." The bank investigators probably won't be able to find it all, they're doing the best they can do.

Someone who is misleading says something that is totally true but in the end not relevant. It can be malevolent, or it can be done out of lack of knowledge. "I was on my lunch hour when the transaction took place." That may have been true but you could have set up an automatic withdrawal for that time, maybe you did (and were guilty), or maybe you didn't (and thought you had to be present to steal), but either way, it was stolen electronically.

Someone who is wrong or mistaken had an error of perception or misinterpreted facts. "The amount was only $10.00" when it may have been $1000.

So someone who is misleading may have done so intentionally or not.

7

I too argue for YES

The OED gives only one sense of mislead:

a. Originally: to lead astray in action or conduct, to lead into error (now rare). In later use (now the usual sense): to deceive by giving incorrect information or a false impression (of a situation, etc.); to delude or misinform.

and

to mislead. Longman Dictionary

to make someone believe something that is not true by giving him or her false or incomplete information: mislead somebody about something They may have misled the public about the true cost of the program.

So

does “mislead” imply intent?

Yes!

      • *

ps: Some answers that argue for NO are using accidental, unintended and sorry if I, etc ... are modifiers, negating the intent. To mislead is intentional by my interpretation if its sense.

  • 1
    In most cases. Usually. – user22542 Feb 13 at 23:38
  • does 'to deceive' imply intent? – Display name Feb 14 at 14:31
  • 4
    I don't understand why you finish with "yes" when both your definitions imply no. Your first definition's only word that might imply intent is "deceive" and your second definition's contains nothing that implies intent. My dictionary defines "deceive" as causing someone to believe something that is not true, which does not imply intent. Synonyms like deceive, trick, or fool are frequently attributed to inanimate objects that can't possibly intend to mislead. – David Schwartz Feb 14 at 21:27
  • 2
    'to deceive' & 'to make' clearly imply imply intent. – lbf Feb 14 at 21:40
  • 2
    @lbf I don't think so. You can make something happen with or without intending for it to happen, such as this dictionary example, "anyone can make a mistake". Make only indicates causality, not intentionality. And we often describe inanimate objects as deceptive, such as this dictionary example: "the deceptive calm in the eye of the storm". Surely that doesn't mean the storm intended to trick us. – David Schwartz Feb 15 at 4:07
5

The verb lead means to assume an active role as leader, and so transitive to mislead (and its passive to be misled and the adjective formed therefrom as in I feel misled) implies a failure in that role of some kind, whether intentional and deliberate or through negligence or incompetence.

P.S. The meaning of the passive form of the verb (were misled by) implies something about the "leader" or that which leads, if not negligence or incompetence, an intrinsic quality that causes the "follower" to go astray:

They were misled by the ambiguity of the policy language.

5

It depends on how the word was actually used.

Mislead is one of those verbs that depends heavily on context and subject (and therefore voice) to determine whether the action was intentional. Compare the verb cut:

Mom, Joey cut my hand! [Intent is clearly implied: the speaker believes that the cutting was intentional on Joey's part]

The knife cut my hand. [No intent: knives are inanimate, and the speaker hasn't added any personifying context]

I cut my hand. [Ambiguous, but probably no intent: we generally assume that people don't intend to cut themselves, so without more context this is probably accidental; adding context can clear this up]

I cut my hand when the knife slipped. [No intent]

I cut my hand for the blood-brothers ceremony. [Intent]

My hand was cut. [Ambiguous: by choosing the passive voice the speaker has left unclear who or what cut their hand, and has also left ambiguous whether they are assigning blame]

A lot of verbs work this way; you could substitute hurt or maim or burn into the above sentences (with appropriate contextual substitutions, like "hot pan" for "knife") and get the same effect.

And the same thing happens with misled:

The vile seducer misled me with promises of marriage. [Intent]

The strange lighting misled me about the color of the dress. [No intent]

I was misled. [Ambiguous]

I was misled by my prejudice and wishful thinking. [No intent, but perhaps some blame]

I was misled by your tricks and blandishments. [Intent]

So for your situation, it would depend on how the complaint was phrased. You don't give the exact sentence, but here are some possibilities I can imagine and how I would interpret them:

I was misled by the information I received. [Ambiguous]

I was misled by my reading of the information. [No intent]

I was misled by their false and confusing information. [Ambiguous as to intent, but definitely casting blame]

They misled me with false and confusing information. [Probably ascribes intent]

1

Mislead does not necessarily imply intent. It does carry heavy connotations that imply it is intentional, but that is not its official definition. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/mislead

"To cause someone to believe something that is not true".

That is the definition given by Cambridge Dictionary. The example of the word used below is one where the doer has in fact intentionally mislead the police, yet the definition does not state that it has to be intentional. One could deliberately cause someone to believe falsely, and one can accidentally cause this.

This means that mislead is heavily synonymous with misinform. Their direct meaning is the same, but their connotations are different. With mislead, one often think it has been done consciously and deliberately. But with misinform, one often think its done unconsciously and accidentally.

"To tell someone information that is not correct".

https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/misinform

Here are other dictionaries definitions:

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/mislead

Merriam-Webster does include that misleading it is often done deliberately.

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/misinform

Whilst with misinform no such connotation is shed light on.

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/mislead

https://www.dictionary.com/browse/misinform?s=t

1

Wiktionary's definition of mislead is as follows:

Verb

mislead (third-person singular simple present misleads, present participle misleading, simple past and past participle misled) (transitive)

  1. (literally) To lead astray, in a false direction.
  2. To deceive by telling lies or otherwise giving a false impression.
  3. To deceptively trick into something wrong.
    • The preacher elaborated Satan's ways to mislead us into sin
  4. To accidentally or intentionally confuse.
  1. no intent specified
  2. "to deceive" implies intent
  3. "to deceptively trick" implies intent
  4. specifies that either intentionally or unintentionally is possible.

So, whether or not "mislead" implies intent is determined by the context, not the meaning of the word itself.

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.