For the past two weeks, it seems, I have been telling Britain's favourite fib at least 20 times a day. "That cough of yours sounds really terrible," my wife will say. "You really ought to see a doctor."

"Oh, don't be ridiculous," I splutter in the intervals of barking like a demented seal. "There's nothing wrong with me - I'm fine!"

There are league tables for everything these days, and now here is one for liars. According to a survey carried out by drinks firm WKD, British people tell an average of four untruths per day.

And contrary to gender myth, men have a lower standard of veracity, fibbing an average five times compared to women's three.


Remember when you tell those little white lies: The Carpenters, who were famed for their song The Night Has A Thousand Eyes - a classic lesson to those who want to be duplicitous


On this reckoning, each of us tells up to 1,460 fibs a year, or almost 88,000 over a 60-year lifespan.

We are speaking of what are known as "white lies" (latterly transmuted into "porky pies"), those small, generally harmless falsehoods which oil the wheels of almost all human relationships and which can spring from good motives as much as bad.

According to the survey, "There's nothing wrong with me... I'm fine" comes top of the league, with 28 per cent of those surveyed admitting to using it habitually.

Also in the top 20 are "Nice to see you", "Sorry I missed your call", "I'm stuck in traffic", "Our server was down", "The train was delayed", "The cheque's in the post", "I'll phone you back in a minute", "This tastes delicious", and "Of course I love you".

We all have our particular betes noires among the torrents of lying guff that assail us each day, mainly down the telephone: "The cab'll be there in two minutes"... "Congratulations! Your name has been automatically selected to win a major cash prize"... "We are experiencing an exceptionally heavy volume of calls today. Your call is important to us, so please stay on the line..."

Like all but the most chronic fibbers, I claim justification for my particular bare-faced porky, stubbornly maintained even after using several bottles of cough medicine and a couple of rain forests' worth of tissues.

I happen to have a spouse, petrified of all germs, who hourly expects our whole family to succumb to projectile vomiting, and who reacts to my slightest wheeze or sniff as if it were a dagger plunged into her heart.

We also have a teenage daughter who has recently been cast as the lead in her school musical and whose life would totter in ruins if she caught a throat bug before opening night.

This explains why I have not had a kiss from my nearest and dearest this past fortnight and why I eat at the far end of the table in solitary majesty like some Victorian paterfamilias (still protesting, between barks and splutters, that "I'm fine".)

Ordinarily, I regard myself as a truthful person, which the great essayist Harold Nicolson defined as "someone who, when they tell a lie, is careful not to forget they have done so, and who takes infinite precautions to prevent being found out".

I plead guilty to saying it's "nice" to see people I detest, telling female acquaintances they look gorgeous when they look godawful and reassuring fellow authors that I've enjoyed books I found unreadable. (As the critic Cyril Connolly wryly observed: "I would rather praise my friends' books than read them.")

In the media game, one is always meeting directors whose latest film one has hated or actors whose opening night has sent one to sleep.

A whole lexicon of weaselly double talk exists for such moments, headed by Max Beerbohm's infamous "Darling! Good is not the word!"

There is nothing wrong with a small untruth whose purpose is to calm someone's anxieties or make them feel better about themselves.

Conversely, I have always had a particular dislike of people who use "honesty" as a licence to make woundingly personal or insensitive remarks whenever they will.

Different altogether are the slippery lies parroted by incompetent tradespeople - and sometimes incompetent friends - in the apparent belief that we won't instantly see through them.

In other words, most white liars treat us like morons. I remember once being assured by somebody I was trying to contact that he had faxed me the day before. Unfortunately, this was in the days before I owned a fax machine.

Really, it's small wonder this report exposes us as a nation of fibbers. For we live in a sea of fibs so dense that we barely notice it any more. And I'm not just talking about the past decade's government!

Look at the arrant untruths which seep out of our TV sets during every commercial break - that faceless, avaricious international banks really "care" about their small depositors; that constantly price-raising energy companies are only concerned with saving the planet; that factory-produced pies and cakes are really handcrafted by kindly old gentlemen in country villages.

I live in the London Borough of Camden, an authority notorious for its class envy and ruthless profiteering from hapless car-drivers. Every so often, a cheery leaflet flops through my letterbox, describing it as "Your Camden Council".

Our very language has been corrupted into often meaning the very opposite of what it says. When we say "security", we of course mean "insecurity". When we say "adult", as in adult entertainment, we mean infantile smut.

Can you think of a two-word phrase with a greater density of lies within it than "Customer Service"? Or "Parking Solutions"? Or "No Problem"? Or "Golden Delicious"?

Most of us stick to small fibs, as Harold Nicolson said, from fear of being found out and realisation of what a terrible chain-reaction even the smallest untruth can engender.

It takes foolhardiness on an almost heroic scale to tell porkies big-time and in public now that electronic media can replay it for ever and ever, like Bill Clinton's: "Ah did not have sexual relations with that woman... Miss Lewinsky."

U.S. presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently fell into the same trap by falsely claiming he saw his father march with the great Civil Rights activist Martin Luther King.

Later he explained he used the word "saw" only in a "figurative sense". (Fibbers' floundering self-justifications are often the most entertaining part of all.)

Britain may be bad, but America remains the home of the honeyed lie, as anyone who has lived or worked there will know.

In the 1980s, when I was based in New York and writing for Vanity Fair magazine, every idea I put forward would be hailed as "very exciting" or even "awesome", then, in 50 per cent of cases, rejected or ruthlessly spiked after being written.

In my frustration, I used to imagine a New York version of Julius Caesar being murdered by his closest friends. "We want you to know, Julius", they'd be assuring him as the knives went in, "we really love your work!"

On this side of the Atlantic, we have evolved our own version, when a prime minister announces of some embattled Cabinet minister that his position is "unassailable".

Aren't we all longing to hear that particular porky about Peter Hain?

I'd like to say more but I'm afraid another coughing fit is about to overwhelm me. I repeat: "It's nothing serious and I'm perfectly all right."


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Date: 1 Oct 2008 | Author: mesmerX | Category: News | Views: 2883

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