“To negate the truth, she lied.”

So simple.

This is pretty much one of those circular statements I love so much, a sentence that does no more than define itself, reach around and shake its own hand.

One could quibble, or I could quibble, with what looks like the underlying assumption of the sentence—that the truth can in fact be negated. I believe the only instance of a real truth being negated by a mere statement is that conundrum/paradox that fascinated my friends and me for about a week in high school: on one side of a piece of paper, the statement THE STATEMENT ON THE OTHER SIDE IS TRUE; on the other, THE STATEMENT ON THE OTHER SIDE IS FALSE. I had finally to stop thinking about it when I felt my brain might explode.

If we believe there is such a thing as “truth,” we have to accept at least the possibility that no utterance to the contrary can lessen it, or undo it, or negate it.

The young woman referred to in this sentence is that egocentric teenager who accused a man chosen at random of rape to provide her with an explanation in case the intercourse she had had with her boyfriend should result in pregnancy, and steadfastly clung to the accusation even after the uterine coast was clear because she was then trying to protect herself from charges of perjury. To negate the truth that she and her boyfriend had been having sex, she lied that someone had come out of the night and raped her. But although her lie might have fooled her parents, the police, and the jury, it did not negate the truth that she had had sex with her boyfriend; it merely concealed, or contradicted, the truth. And she knew it.

Still, I do love the sentence my student wrote. It seems so simple, in both the utterance and the idea. There’s a nice rhythm to it.

In fact, I wish it were possible. I can think of a lot of truths—or facts, or realities—I’d like to wipe away with a word.

About RAB

Teacher of English writing and literature (college-level); academic-freedom activist; editor and copy editor; theater director, costumer, actress, playwright. View all posts by RAB

2 responses to ““To negate the truth, she lied.”

  • Mary Jane Schaefer

    When my love swears that she is made of truth
    I do believe her, though I know she lies.

    Sorry, this may not be word perfect. It just “popped into my head,” as Mrs. Loveit would say.

  • yearstricken

    You always grab me with some image: “a sentence that does no more than define itself, reach around and shake its own hand.” Wonderful. But really, I am doing my best not to think of the paper you mentioned with those two statements, which I will not repeat.

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