The Truth About Lies: 72 Quotations from Authors Who Maybe Should Know


December 4, 2016 by Paula Reed Nancarrow

Once again, I am preparing for a theme-based storytelling event. That theme is “lies.” I often use quotations to stimulate thought on a theme, to prime the pump, or give me a new perspective on an old experience. I hope you’ll find some below that do the same for you.


Perhaps we have been guilty of some terminological inexactitudes. Winston S. Churchill

Winston Churchill

Courtesy Biography.


The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them. Elena Gorokhova, A Mountain of Crumbs, on the Soviet government.


Dare to be true. Nothing can need a lie: a fault which needs it most, grows two thereby. George Herbert


My shining dishonesty will be the salvation of me. Diana Wynne Jones, Howl’s Moving Castle.


Grow your tree of falsehood from a small grain of truth. Do not follow those who lie in contempt of reality. Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself, so the weary travelers may find repose. Czeslaw Milosz


On the whole, lying is a cheerful affair. Embellishments are intended to give pleasure. People long to tell you what they imagine you want to hear. They want to amuse you; they want to amuse themselves; they want to show you a good time. This is beyond hospitality. This is art. Isabel Fonseca, Bury Me Standing: The Gypsies and Their Journey.


And this wasn’t lying, not really. It was leaving out. Stephen King, Hearts in Atlantis


She lied with fluency, ease and artistic fervor. Agatha Christie, They Came to Baghdad.


Self-censorship is a lie to yourself; if you are going to be trying to seriously create art, to create literary art, and you decide to hold back, to censor yourself, then you are a fool to yourself and it would be better that you kept your mouth shut and did not speak. Salman Rushdie


“I never lie,” I said offhand. “At least not to those I don’t love.” Anne Rice, The Vampire Lestat


In human relationships, kindness and lies are worth a thousand truths. Graham Greene


How easy it was to lie to strangers, to create with strangers the versions of our lives that we have imagined. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Americanah.


Courtesy Salon. Credit: Knopf/Ivara Esege


A person I knew use to divide human beings into three categories: Those who prefer have nothing to hide rather than being obliged to lie, those who prefer lying to having nothing to hide, and finally those who like both lying and the hidden. Albert Camus


The mistake ninety-nine percent of humanity made, as far as Fats could see, was being ashamed of what they were; lying about it, trying to be somebody else. J.K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy.


I’m the most terrific liar you ever saw in your life. It’s awful. If I’m on my way to the store to buy a magazine, even, and somebody asks me where I’m going, I’m liable to say I’m going to the opera. It’s terrible. J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye.


A lie to get out of something, or take an advantage for oneself, that’s one thing; but a lie to make life more interesting – well, that’s entirely different. Diana Vreeland


I do myself a greater injury in lying than I do him of whom I tell a lie. Michel de Montaigne


Never to lie is to have no lock to your door, you are never wholly alone. Elizabeth Bowen


The best lies about me are the ones I told. Patrick Rothfuss, The Name of the Wind.


Hope will lie to you, but lust is what it is; it never lies. Laurell K. Hamilton, Flirt.


A lie that is half-truth is the darkest of all lies. Alfred Tennyson


He was lying; I could hear it the way you hear a tune and you know how it goes. I wondered how many times I’d heard him lie, to know so well what it sounded like. Annie Barrows, The Truth According to Us.


Fiction was invented the day Jonah arrived home and told his wife that he was three days late because he had been swallowed by a whale… Gabriel Garcia Marquez


Photo courtesy Cordoba Times, via InspirePortal


She tells enough white lies to ice a wedding cake. Margot Asquith


Lying to ourselves is more deeply ingrained than lying to others. Fyodor Dostoyevsky


Maybe I could dole out the truth in tiny pieces that, once assembled, would make a picture that resembled a reality in which I hadn’t done anything wrong. Paula Stokes, Liars, Inc.


Integrity is a bugger, it really is. Lying can get you into difficulties, but to really wind up in the crappers try telling nothing but the truth. David Mitchell, Ghostwritten.


Laurent was very sincere. When he lied, he was the first person deceived. George Sand, She and He.


There are three types of lies — lies, damn lies, and statistics. Benjamin Disraeli


I lie to myself all the time. But I never believe me. S.E. Hinton, The Outsiders


The wise thing is for us diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not our own; to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully, maliciously; to lie gracefully and graciously, not awkwardly and clumsily; to lie firmly, frankly, squarely, with head erect, not haltingly, tortuously, with pusillanimous mien, as being ashamed of our high calling. Mark Twain, On the Decay of the Art of Lying.


The thing about lying to your parents is, you have to do it to protect them. It’s for their own good. Sophie Kinsella, Twenties Girl.


We lie loudest when we lie to ourselves. Eric Hoffer


Lying to him was as necessary as breathing or wrapping up against the cold — a defence against curiosity. Joan Aiken, Dark Interval.


The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others. Friedrich Nietzsche


That was how dishonesty and betrayal started, not in big lies but in small secrets Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter.

Amy Tan

Amy Tan, Courtesy Women You Show Know.


First one tells a lie; then one believes it; then one becomes it. Marty Rubin


But surely to tell these tall tales and others like them would be to spread the myth, the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect. Zadie Smith


When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie. Yevgeny Yevtushenko


Few born liars ever intentionally embark in truth’s direction, even those who believe that such a journey might axiomatically set them free. Mary Karr


Women writers make for rewarding (and efficient) lovers. They are clever liars to fathers and husbands; yet they never hold their tongues too long, nor keep ardent typing fingers still. Roman Payne, Rooftop Soliloquy.


Actions lie louder than words. Carolyn Wells, More Mixed Maxims, Folly for the Wise (1904).


Lying, the telling of beautiful untrue things, is the proper aim of Art. Oscar Wilde


I believe in the dull lie – make your story boring enough and no one will question it. Sara Paretsky, Blood Shot.


Lying is essential to humanity. It plays as large a part perhaps as the quest for pleasure, and is moreover governed by that quest. One lies in order to protect one’s pleasure, or one’s honour if the disclosure of one’s pleasure runs counter to one’s honour. One lies all one’s life long, even, especially, perhaps only, to those who love one. For they alone make us fear for our pleasure and desire their esteem. Marcel Proust, The Captive & The Fugitive


He led a double life. Did that make him a liar? He did not feel a liar. He was a man of two truths … Iris Murdoch, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine.


If it is necessary sometimes to lie to others, it is always despicable to lie to oneself. W. Somerset Maugham, The Painted Veil.


The possibilities that exist between two people, or among a group of people, are a kind of alchemy. They are the most interesting thing in life. The liar is someone who keeps losing sight of these possibilities. Adrienne Rich, On Lies, Secrets and Silence.


Lies have short shelf lives. Lies go bad. Lies rot and stink up the joint. Sherman Alexie

ANDERSON ULF/GETTY, Courtesy The Daily Beast

ANDERSON ULF/GETTY, Courtesy The Daily Beast


Truth is a theory that is constantly being disproved. Only lies, it seems, go on forever. Eartha Kitt


Dad got furious when we lied to him. No, Dad got furious then we lied to him. Brian Spellman


So often the truth is told with hate, and lies are told with love. Rita Mae Brown, Bingo.


The real history of consciousness starts with one’s first lie. Joseph Brodsky, Less Than One: Selected Essays.


The last sin, the sin against the Holy Ghost — to lie to oneself. Lying to other people — that’s a small thing in comparison. Rose Macaulay, Crewe Train.


Clovis believed that if a lie was worth telling it was worth telling well. Saki


Truth is no man’s slave — but lies — what magnificent servants they make … Phyllis Bottome, The Life Line.


It is always the best policy to speak the truth, unless, of course, you are an exceptionally good liar. Jerome K. Jerome


He lies like a book. And he reads a lot of books. Elfriede Jelinek, Wonderful, Wonderful Times.


False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil. Plato, Phaedo.


I am a congenital liar. Some Highlanders are. To my ancestors, the truth was so sacred as to be unusable. Gladys Mitchell


I’m very gullible when it comes to my own words. I believe everything I say, though I know I’m a liar. Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light.

Courtesy Tor.

Courtesy Tor.


It isn’t the initial cost of a lie, it is the upkeep which counts so terribly. Emilie Loring, Hilltops Clear


Even if I am not the honestest type in the world I don’t want to lie more than is average. Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March.


Falsehood is not more unjustifiable than unsafe. Fanny Burney, Evelina, or A Young Lady’s Entrance Into the World (1778).


Comrade, you can deceive us. Anyone can — for a time. But not a very long time. Tom Clancy, The Cardinal of the Kremlin


Nothing creates such untruth in you as the wish to please. Shirley Hazzard, The Transit of Venus.


A liar is always lavish of oaths. Pierre Corneille


I also hate it when men lie to me. It’s not becoming, and they’re rarely very good at it. Carolina Garcia-Aguilera, Bloody Waters.


When the world has once got hold of a lie, it is astonishing how hard it is to get it out of the world. You beat it about the head, till it seems to have given up the ghost, and lo! the next day it is as healthy as ever. Edward Bulwer Lytton


Lying increases the creative faculties, expands the ego, and lessens the frictions of social contacts. Clare Boothe Luce


Stories may well be lies, but they are good lies that say true things, and which can sometimes pay the rent. Neil Gaiman


When a contradiction is impossible to resolve except by a lie, then we know that it is really a door. Simone Weil, philosopher, mystic, resistance fighter.

Simone WeilCourtesy Cynthia Haven, “Simone Weil and the Mark of Slavery.”

I rely on a variety of websites to compile quotations, but two were particularly helpful for this post:  Goodreads and Rosalie Maggio’s excellent resource Quotations by Women. Are there others you use? Which quotations were you particularly drawn to, and why?

15 thoughts on “The Truth About Lies: 72 Quotations from Authors Who Maybe Should Know

  1. Diana says:

    that must have taken you a while! I am curious about how you will use some (any? all?) of these in the story-telling event.

    The one that really resonated with me — especially considering the use of the internet these days, is this one:

    When the world has once got hold of a lie, it is astonishing how hard it is to get it out of the world. You beat it about the head, till it seems to have given up the ghost, and lo! the next day it is as healthy as ever. Edward Bulwer Lytton

    Liked by 1 person

    • Diana: I don’t usually use the quotations in the actual story, just to brainstorm some direction for the narrative. Or perhaps I use them to procrastinate. ;-) Folktales also help me in this regard. I did think Edward Bulwer Lytton was rather fake news prescient for the 19th century, yes. ;-)


  2. Kara Post-Kennedy says:

    I have been called “pathologically honest” and in the spirit of that I have to admit: the older I am, the more I see the value of “lies” (quotes intentional). Love these. And does it surprise you to know I am actually related to Winston Churchill?


    • It does surprise me, yes – unless you are trying to de-pathologize yourself and are pulling my leg. ;-)

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kara Post-Kennedy says:

        My mother’s maiden name (and my middle name) is Jerome, same as Churchill’s mom–the blood relationship was confirmed by my great-aunt in a later life obsession with genealogy. However, my favorite of these quotes is from my favorite all-time author, Iris Murdoch. “He was a man of two truths”. Brilliant.


  3. jan says:

    Love 69 – so appropriate for today.


  4. burke59 says:

    I’ve been called “moralistic” because I think there’s a difference between right and wrong; truth and lies. My character, Bernadette, in the Jessica Huntington mystery series has something to say about it! “The worst kind of truth is better than the best lie.” Probably not the “coolest,” most sophisticated notion in a “post-truth” world. Oh well, that’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Thanks, as usual, for a lovely, thoughtful post.


  5. That is quite a list! I really enjoyed the author photos you included, too. Amy Tan looks really cute with her purple hair. ~Tui


  6. elainemansfield says:

    Some quotes help me digest the daily revelations and choices being made by DT. Thanks for sharing your research on a timely topic.

    Elena Gorokhova speaks to me and makes me want to hide under the bed.

    On a similar theme, “When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” Yevgeny Yevtushenko. Somehow or other, I have to figure out how to not retreat into silence for the sake of sanity.

    This one smacks me over the head. “When the world has once got hold of a lie, it is astonishing how hard it is to get it out of the world. You beat it about the head, till it seems to have given up the ghost, and lo! the next day it is as healthy as ever.” Edward Bulwer Lytton


  7. I enjoyed this so much — in particular, your beautiful balancing of quotations by women and by men. It made for a pleasing whole. I do the same thing you do — before writing on a topic, I read quotations — never to use them but just to steep myself in that area and bounce off from what I’ve read. (Thanks too for mentioning using quotes from — I love that site myself and put it together for one reason only: that more women will be quoted. As you did so nicely.) Brava to you! Rosalie


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