Published In The Great North Arrow, October 2020: Lies, White Lies & Exaggerations

- jim Young


“I’ve told you a million times not to exaggerate!” - anon


Everyone exaggerates. Wait! That’s a lie. Maybe not everyone.


Actually that wasn’t really a lie even though everyone may not really exaggerate. It was just an exaggeration.


Confused?


So what’s the difference?

A lie can be defined as an untrue statement usually with the intent to deceive. 


An exaggeration, while technically a lie, on the other hand is most often an attempt to embellish a true story to make it sound more interesting or more dramatic than it probably is.


In the opening quote, while you may not have really been told a “million times” not to exaggerate, the main point is you have been told on more than one occasion not to exaggerate. “A million times” was added to emphasize it was a lot of times that you’ve been told and it's not intended to be taken literally.


A pathological liar will soon be discovered as a fraud by everyone around him until the only person that believes his lies is himself.


A compulsive over-exaggerator, on the other hand, can still be trusted to tell the truth, even if his stories are not the whole truth and nothing but the truth. This is where the expression “taken with a grain of salt” comes into play.


Bill Cosby was a master when it came to using exaggeration for humour. (Can we talk about Bill Cosby, the comedian, not the sex offender for a moment?)


Regardless of what you may think of Bill Cosby, the person, Bill Cosby, the comedian, was a pure genius when it came to comedy.


Bill Cosby relied largely on exaggeration in most of his stand-up comedy routines.


“The belt was 9 feet long; 8 feet wide and it had hooks on it and it would rip the meat off your body if it ever hit you.”


“My parents never smiled because I had brain damage.”


Although most of his stories were based on real life experiences, they were exaggerated to the point they would make us laugh. (The above examples from a couple of Bill Cosby’s routines didn’t seem funny because they were taken out of context.)


Ironically, Coca-Cola hired Bill Cosby as their spokesperson because a market survey showed that most people trusted him in spite of his colossal exaggerations.


Politicians most often fit into both categories. They lie when the truth is not in their best interest and they exaggerate when it is. Often, despite sometimes even blatant lies however, they are still able to get the majority of people to believe them. 


I don’t think I need to give any examples here as we all mostly likely have at least one in mind right now.


White lies on the other hand are something else altogether. They are most often called “little” white lies to downplay that they are in fact still lies.


The difference here is the intent. The little white lie is usually intended to spare someone’s feelings.


“Yes, that dress looks really good on you.”


“I love having your best friend over for dinner.”


The truth, in these cases, serves no one's best interest so a little white lie is told instead. 


Then there’s the lies that statistics tell. Yes, lies can sometimes be filled with truths. But that’s a whole other area of truths and untruths best left for another time.


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