Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1438, (11 - 17 April 2019)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1438, (11 - 17 April 2019)

Ahram Weekly

The art of inexactitude

Call it whatever you wish: exaggeration, misrepresentation, inaccuracy, hypocrisy, but the bare fact is, we lie. We all lie and we lie a lot.

Lying is a basic skill that we learn early in life, according to Robert Feldman, professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts. In a 25-year study, he has concluded that children lie starting as young as age three. They are not particularly good, but they still use the social tactic. “By the time they are five or six they actually become very good at it.”

Why do we lie? We lie because it is hard to admit the truth, yet just as hard as to acknowledge lying.

Science has been quite involved in the subject, inventing lie-detecting machines that were often wrong. Now they have better machines such as the Electroencephalograms that monitor electric activity in the brain or thermal imaging that detects eyes heating up when we lie. However, science has yet to offer a method of specifically isolating lying as opposed to nervousness, fear, tension, etc.

If liars were detected, we may all walk around with distended noses like Pinocchio. That is a relief for mankind, which has long forgotten that “honesty is the best policy”.

We lie for rewards, financial or otherwise. Children lie to avoid punishment, students lie for better grades, husbands lie to their wives, employees lie to their bosses, salesmen lie to their customers, politicians lie to their electorates, the media lies to its readers, viewers and listeners and so it goes. Inexactitude is the mysterious inward quality of being, leaving us in a universe of doubt, insecurity and lack of trust.

The irony is that we deny ourselves the freedom we have for so long struggled for: free speech.

How can you have free speech without free words?

We do not admit we lie, it is too harsh a word. Inexactitude is far better.

It was first introduced in 1906 by Winston Churchill, when he was forbidden by the speaker of the House of Commons to call another member a liar. Winston Churchill did what only Winston Churchill can, he replaced “liar” with “purveyor of terminological inexactitudes”. Everyone in the chamber knew he meant “liar”.

The euphemism became famous. It conveyed the insult without sounding offensive.

Parliament has since banned certain words such as “traitor”, “coward’”, “hypocrite”, among others, as being too harsh for decent conversation. But nothing endures and being offensive is no longer offensive, if you watch what goes on in Congress and the scandalous, endless investigations of Hillary Clinton’s dossiers and Donald Trump’s collusion.

Decent conversation is no more. A mendacious media rules the day. They lie and deceive as only scorpions do.

Whatever happened to the ideal of journalism, the pursuit of truth” It is a noble activity and should have remained so if technology had not offered us a million ways to get our news. The exercise of reading your favourite paper from front to back is a thing of the past. Now we get hundreds of TV channels that are their master’s voices, all biased opinions charged with criticism, interpretation and yes, lies.

When the facts do not coincide with the pre-conceived image or instructions, journalists quickly reach for their tinted glasses and embellish the truth.

 That is not to mention the social media where all the young are found, the youth of our present, the hope of our future.

If only there was a journalism oath such as the “Hippocratic” oath for physicians, to guarantee the basic principle of impartial reporting, to shield us from the onslaught of a flood of lies. But what wishful thinking is this, doctors lie too.

Science shows us that man has discovered there are clear biological benefits to dishonesty. We are primed to deceive, and we polish our skill with time and use it as a means of achieving success in all walks of life.

This is the worst of all worlds, or is it? Has it always been so or has the distorted media contributed significantly to its sorrowful state as they continue to adhere to terminological inexactitudes?

Television commentators constantly penetrate our homes, our minds, our eyes, our ears and our hearts by their relentless transmission of lies, interpretations, opinions, what they call news laced with arsenic, fake and distorted. Innocent viewers devour endless servings of lies, treachery and deception.

Vision is a powerful tool that has been abused by hypocritical politicians and newsmen with rose-colored glasses and black hearts.

We tell ourselves “truth shall prevail”. Alas, where is truth? Here it comes late and limping, while the winner has already prevailed.

Certain books have been designated as rich with popular terminological inexactitudes. The list is endless, but you may recognise some of these prestigious titles:

The Captive Mind by Czeslaw Milosz, Gigi by Colette, The Book of Laughter & Forgetting by Milan Kundera, La Septieme function de Langage by Laure Bluet, Your Path to Joy by Mo Gawdat, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, Atonement by Ian McEwan, Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk, The Night Trilogy by Elie Wiesel, and the list goes on and on.

Resist, contradict, fight it all we can, we are literally surrounded by inexactitudes from the grocer to our preacher. Like a germ lies are eating up what is left that is good, just and honourable in mankind.

Do we simply give up? No. The fight continues.


“A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to put his pants on.”

Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965)

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