Curtis Dahlgren
Rages of the Sages of the Ages against liars & P.R. spin
By Curtis Dahlgren
March 12, 2018

"She will lie as fast as a dogge wil licke a dishe." – John Heywood (1546)

"An egg is not so full of meat as she is full of lies." – John Still, attrib. (1565)

"He wil lie, sir, with such volubility that you would think truth were a fool." – Shakespeare (1602)

IN THE AGE OF THE "SMART" PHONE, the saving of proverbs is becoming a lost art. "Shakespeare who?" That is so five centuries ago. It's hard to Tweet a proverb if it has more than 240 characters. Chaucer drives Spell Check crazy. Auto Correct says there is no such word as "volubility." Besides, Truth literally has become foolishness (upside down). Solomon's "Book of Proverbs" has been lost in cyberspace. Relegated to the Spam bin of history. It's beyond the "consume-by" date. Old! As for mainstream news, don't get me started. Television is called a "medium" because anything that's "well done" on it is RARE (no pun intended). Don't start with me, CNN!

"The famous maxim of Mein Kampf that any lie will be believed if it is big enough [and repeated often enough]." – Herman Raushning (1939)

As folks, quoth Richard, prone to lying,
Say things at first because they're pleasing . .
Til their own dreams at length deceive 'em,
And, oft repeating, they believe 'em.
Matthew Prior (1718)

Walter Cronkite died in 2009. His "That's the way it is" has gone extinct. "This is who we are" is MSNBC's motto now (which doesn't say much about them). Or is it "whom we are"? Anyway, I've been meaning to credit the source of most of my recent quotations: "The Home Book of Proverbs, Maxims and Familiar Phrases," by Burton Egbert Stevenson (MacMillan, 1948). Nearly 3,000 pages, fine print, double columned. The topic "LIFE" alone covers 24 pages, "lies and lying" six and one-half. Someone said that an honest death is better than a dishonest life.

My head hurts just trying to imagine all the work that went into that volume – before Google and the Internet – and I got it for a measly ten bucks at a used book sale. It was stamped "withdrawn" by the local library. Out of date, in other words. Old Egburt must be tossing and turning in his grave. But seriously, just when Western Civ's greatest lines got categorized, 1948, Western Civ began to fall out of favor with our Best and Brightest ("there are now more Communists on the faculty of Harvard than in all of Eastern Europe," WFB, Jr. said, I think). I haven't even read "God and Man at Yale" yet, but it's on my bucket list. But anyway, here's an example from Stevenson's gem collection:

"Twenty years a boy, twenty years a youth, twenty years a young man, twenty years an old man; these four periods correspond to the four seasons." – Pythagoras (525 BC)

I like that one because age 60 was still considered "young" and an 80 year life span must have been common, half a millenium before Christ (and before MRIs and Obamacare). The average life expectancy in the U.S. is actually starting to go backwards, due to addictions, over-doses, and other nihilistic joy-rides. At any rate, let's see some more of those Rages of the Sages of the Ages:

"To a free-born man, the name of liar cleaves as a deadly brand." – Sophocles (409 BC)

"Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord." – Old Testament (350 BC?)

"When they speak the truth they are not believed." – Aristotle, on the reward of liars (340 BC)

"It's a liar you're trying your lies on." – Plautus, 194 BC (it doesn't work)

"An honest death is preferable to a dishonest life." – Publilius Cyrus (43 AD)

"Whosoever has once become known as guilty of some shameful deceit, forfeits belief even if he speaks the truth." – Phaedrus, 25 BC (paraphrasing Aesop)

"Who who would save his life [by lying] shall lose it." – New Testament (1st century AD)

"He woulde lye as fast as a horse woulde trot." – John Skelton (1529)

"A liar is commonly a coward, for he dares not avow truth." – Sir Walter Scott (1616)

"Show me a liar and I'll show you a thief . . Nothing can need a lie; a fault, which needs it most, grows two thereby." – George Herbert (1629)

"If a lie could have choked him, that one would have done it." – John Ray (1678)

"Parasites and liars have need of good memories." – Sir Roger L'Estrange (1692)

The Lord delights in them that speak

The words of truth, but every liar

Must have his portion in the lake

That burns with brimstone and with fire.

Isaac Watts(1715)

"He who tells a lie, is not sensible of how great a task he undertakes, for he must be forced to invent twenty more to maintain that one." – Pope (1727)

"A Lye begets a Lye, till they come to generations." – Thomas Fuller (1732)

"A liar is a man who does not know how to deceive." – Vanenargues (1746)

"You may observe that the greatest fools are the greatest liars." – Lord Chesterfield (1754)

"That's a lie, and a loud one." – Sir Walter Scott (1819)

"His lies are latticed lies, and you can see through them." – Robert Forby (1830)

"All lies disgrace a gentleman, black or white." – Frederick Marryat, 1833 [that one can be taken more than one way]

"Sin has many tools, but a lie is the handle which fits them all." – Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. (1858)

"That man can lie the bark off a tree." – Joaquin Miller (1877)

"One of the most startling differences between a can and a lie is that a cat has only nine lives." – Mark Twain (1893)

"There is nothing so pathetic as a forgetful liar." – F.M. Knowles (1906)

P.S. Let's not forget that other old verity, "A lie goes half way around the world before Truth gets his hip-boots on." That was before the Information Superhighway; now the lie goes into outer space and back before the victim of a smear even hears about the lie. There is a controversy as to whether there are more lies in Washington DC, California, or in the Olde Media and dead tree newspapers. It may be a wash, but as Charles Manson used to say:

"Being crazy used to mean something. Now everybody's crazy."

Or, as someone said, "A cracked bell can never sound well."

One thing for sure is that humans have been coping with human nature for thousands of years, and the Sages of the Ages are pretty much in agreement about lying. They're against it.

PPS: I'm posting this column with a smidgeon of trepidation because I haven't stuck to the center of that great "straight and narrow" path my whole life either you know. All I can do is commit myself into the Lord's hands, and hope you do the same. As an old Chinese proverb says:

"He who saves another's life adds ten years to his own."

What's so hard to understand? Do me a favor and pass this along to the rest of the people you care about. The life you save may be mine.

© Curtis Dahlgren


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Curtis Dahlgren

Curtis Dahlgren is semi-retired in southern Wisconsin, and is the author of "Massey-Harris 101." His career has had some rough similarities to one of his favorite writers, Ferrar Fenton... (more)


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