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You lie!

Old-school calumny

So there was Obama talking about his health plan in Congress, and Republican Joe Wilson gets a rush of blood to his head and yells “You lie!“, thus causing much exciting controversy. But what is most intriguing about it is how it is phrased. Wilson didn’t shout “You’re a liar!” or “You’re lying!” or “That’s a lie!”, all of which would seem to be more natural modern alternatives. Instead he chose the deliciously archaic and formal “You lie!”, which only needs the addition of a “sir” — “You lie, sir!” — and a slap in the face with a white silk glove to constitute a challenge to a duel with muskets. (A further possible implication of Wilson’s choice of words, I suppose, is “You lie habitually.”)

In any case, Democrats getting all huffy about it all over the blogoicosahedron are, sadly, playing right into the Republicans’ hands, since — as George Lakoff could probably prove with quantum physics — the frame of the subsequent argument is the proximity of the notions “President Obama” and “lying”, which is all the South Carolingian doofus could have hoped for in the first place.

How do you prefer to accuse someone of lying, readers?

  1. 1  shadowfirebird  September 11, 2009, 8:31 am 

    “That’s not true, and I think you know it isn’t.” — or something similar.

    (I *am* from the UK.)

  2. 2  Hey Zeus  September 11, 2009, 9:08 am 

    I rock my head from side to side and exclaim,
    “Oh, this is some Bullshit right here”

    emphasis and elongation of the word ‘bull’,
    mandatory ‘black man’ voice.

  3. 3  wh00ps  September 11, 2009, 9:23 am 

    Usually I just make an expressive noise: *pfft* accompanied by a rolling of the eyes, although I have been known to exclaim “you sir, are the original serpent: liar and father of the lie!” Not usually while sober though.

  4. 4  Edmund  September 11, 2009, 10:26 am 

    “I’m not sure sure about that, because [evidence]”, or more strongly, “I think you’re mistaken, because [evidence]” work fairly well.

    In Comments on papers, of course, you can use the passive voice: “Liar at al. state [X]. This is erroneous because [reason]”, blaming the statement rather than the author.

  5. 5  Marsh Davies  September 11, 2009, 11:14 am 

    I rarely accuse anyone of lying because I am pathetically non-confrontational, but I was once accused of lying myself by a drunk and potentially violent Welshman. He pinned me against a wall in a dank Cardiff pub and slurred, “You speak with a forked tongue!” repeatedly until a friend extricated me. I hadn’t actually said anything because I had only just walked through the door, but he could no doubt smell fraudulence wafting from my every lying pore.

  6. 6  Tom  September 11, 2009, 7:18 pm 

    A third interpretation of Wilson’s phrasing could suggest that all he was opining was that SOMETIMES Obama lies, so we shouldn’t listen to him even when he’s telling the truth. Which is sort of like if you said something about, I don’t know, Palestine, and I cried, “you misspeak!”, but I was actually referring to something you once said about Tomb Raider.

    I prefer to address the statement as a lie, thus allowing the speaker the choice of dissociating himself from it and thus not being branded a liar. If I go on record as believing you to be A Liar, what reason do you have to stop now?

  7. 7  Alex Higgins  September 11, 2009, 7:50 pm 

    Instead he chose the deliciously archaic and formal “You lie!”, which only needs the addition of a “sir” — “You lie, sir!”

    Actually, I think it’s “boy” rather than “sir” which is the required addition to Wilson’s pathetic outburst, in the manner of his colleague Rep. Geoff Davis of Kentucky.

    Wilson was agitated by the prospect that Obama’s healthcare plans might lead to the Mexicans who are overrunning South Carolina getting preventive medical care. Which isn’t true, but even the thought of it makes him want to make a scene in public.

    The last person Joe Wilson was heard accusing of lying like this was the previously secret black daughter of Strom Thurmond. Brilliantly, he accused her of lying and said that even if she was telling the truth she still shouldn’t say who her father was because it was “unseemly” for such a person to undermine the integrity of Thurmond.

  8. 8  Alex Higgins  September 11, 2009, 8:56 pm 

    Oh, here are three other variations on ‘You lie!’, from none other than Congressman Joe Wilson:

    “That is wrong. That’s made up. I can’t believe you would say something like that.”

    That was directed at California Democratic Rep. Bob Filner during a live televised debate about invading Iraq. Filner said that Saddam Hussein had received weapons technology from the United States.

    There’s a pattern here of aggressive accusations, combined with a deep and abiding wrongness. The accusations were, of course, followed by: “This hatred of America by some people is just outrageous.”

  9. 9  sharon  September 11, 2009, 11:40 pm 

    “Yeah, right.”

  10. 10  Hey Zeus  September 12, 2009, 1:21 am 

    Wilson doesn’t need to lose his job if he’s happy to have the word ‘Sceptical’ inserted into his official title.

  11. 11  ejh  September 12, 2009, 3:40 pm 

    I prefer the formulation “not only is that not true, but you aware that it is nor true”. And variations thereupon.

  12. 12  Jeff Strabone  September 13, 2009, 5:08 am 

    Senate Democrats responded to Wilson’s false accusation by proposing an amendment that made Wilson look like he was telling the truth and Obama was lying. The amendment would require people to supply proof of citizenship. The bill, H.R. 3200, already included this section:


    Nothing in this subtitle shall allow Federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States.

    I guess that’s how Democrats accuse someone of lying: by bending over backwards to make the liar look credible.

    Why are liberals in legislatures always cowards?

  13. 13  Steven  September 14, 2009, 9:11 am 

    Of course, given British libel laws, one has to be circumspect in these matters. It is necessary to say something like: “Not only is that not true, but either a) you are aware that it is not true or b) you are an idiot.”

  14. 14  ejh  September 16, 2009, 8:03 am 

    There’s also “that’s not even slightly true” which doesn’t actually call the individual a liar but drops a very heavy hint, and “I don’t believe that, and I doubt that you believe it either” which drops the hint rather more heavily.

  15. 15  Gregor  September 16, 2009, 11:00 am 

    ‘How do you prefer to accuse someone of lying, readers?’

    Maybe I’m a coarse lowlander, but ‘what a heap ay shite’ usually suffices for me.

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