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Review of  The Oxford Handbook of Lying

Reviewer: Sabina Tabacaru
Book Title: The Oxford Handbook of Lying
Book Author: Jorg Meibauer
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Linguistic Field(s): Pragmatics
Issue Number: 30.4725

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The Oxford Handbook of Lying, edited by Jörg Meibauer, is organized into five parts, each comprising several chapters. In the Introduction, Meibauer presents some perspectives that are essential in the understanding of lying and deception, such as definitions, processing, and evaluation.

Part I, entitled Traditions, comprises five chapters that deal with different approaches to lying and deception. The first two chapters, written by James Edwin Mahon, present traditional and contemporary approaches to philosophy. These views take us from Ancient Greece (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle) to more contemporary approaches that debate the moral norms of lying. In the next chapter, Karol J. Hardin discusses linguistic approaches to lying and deception adopting a semantic and pragmatic perspective, as well as presenting empirical studies that deal with linguistic cues, language acquisition, attitudes to lying interculturally and cross-culturally, and discourse applications. The following chapter from the psycholinguistics perspective, written by Lewis Bott and Emma Williams, presents the production and psychological components of lying as well as arguments about central resources (“lying is cognitively more demanding than telling the truth”, p. 80). The last chapter of this part (by Alexa Decker, Amanda Disney, Brianna D’Elia and Julian Paul Keener) discusses lying and deception from an evolutionary perspective, describing the complex cognitive abilities at play in human deception (such as those treated in a Theory of Mind).

Part II is titled Concepts and includes ten articles defining different concepts related to lying and deception. Stephen Wright discusses the relation between lying and truth, which is linked to the other chapters on assertion (by Mark Jary) following Dummett (1981) and Brandom (1994), and knowledge (by Matthew A. Benton). Andreas Stokke addresses lying from the perspective of the Gricean maxim of Quality, while taking up irony and implicature. The next chapter (by Andrew Ortony and Swati Gupta) deals with the questions of why and how the deceivers choose to deceive, presenting strategies of deception. That deception is linked to degrees of certainty is presented by Neri Marsili, whereas Don Fallis talks about omission (deceiving people by not saying things). This latter chapter is continued by Jörg Meibauer’s discussion on indirect lying through implicating and presupposing, and thus misleading. Self-deception is the topic of the article by Kathi Beier, who tries to answer the paradox of irrationality linked to lying to oneself, while the last chapter of this part (by Eliot Michaelson) examines how knowledge can be acquired through testimony, and the role epistemic vigilance (Sperber et al. 2010) plays in this process.

Part III, Types of Lies and Deceptions, includes six chapters on knowledge lies and group lies (Julia Staffel), selfless assertions (Jennifer Lackey), bald-faced lies (Jörg Meibauer), bullshitting (Andreas Stokke), bluffing (Jennifer Perillo), and white and prosocial lies (Simone Dietz). These chapters deal with the different reasons behind someone’s deceptive behavior (for instance, bluffing can be used in police interrogations or in court), but also analyze the difference between lying and these acts (“[…] even though some bullshitting is also lying, most lying is not bullshitting”, p. 274). The last chapter of this part focuses on the possible positive reasons someone might have for lying, as opposed to negative, egotistic, or even “oppressing” ones (p. 299), proposing a classification of these lies and ethical justifications.

Part IV, called Distinctions, includes seven articles on fiction and lies (Emar Maier), lying and quotation (Matthew S. Mcglone and Maxim Baryshevtsev), humor (Marta Dynel), irony and default interpretation (Rachel Giora), vagueness (Paul Egré and Benjamin Icard), metaphor and hyperbole (Claudia Claridge), and politeness (Marina Terkourafi). For example, the chapter on the link between lying and quotation discusses the different techniques used in mass media to misrepresent someone’s words (such as ‘contextomy’) while Claridge explores the fine line between metaphor, hyperbole, and lying in terms of intention and ambiguity, very similar to the discussion by Egré & Icard on vagueness and half-truths. Claridge’s analysis also includes examples of conventional uses of figurative language that can be easily recognized. Terkourafi ends this part with a discussion on white lies and the necessity of maintaining a “harmonious social existence” (p.383) through politeness. This chapter specifically presents an overview of different types of lying in relation to politeness and face-threatening acts.

Part V – Domains – includes fifteen chapters related to different fields that lying is applied to. The focus of Victoria Talwar’s chapter is on research that has been carried out on the development of children’s lie-telling and cognitive abilities. Samantha Mann analyzes lying detection, especially in terms of verbal behavior and the techniques used in interviews to differentiate between truth-tellers and liars. Kees Van Deemter and Ehud Reiter’s chapter on computational linguistics explores how computers generate textual summaries of data which contain “deviations from the truth” (p. 424). Bella M. Depaulo considers lying in social psychology, trying to answer questions related to how often people lie, why and to whom, and the types of people more likely to lie, while the next chapter, by Kristina Suchotzki and Matthias Gamer, is dedicated to psychology, focusing at the end on lie detection. Giorgio Ganis presents the findings in neuroscience while the chapter by Thomas L. Carson deals with ethics and the morality of lying, presenting views from absolutism, utilitarianism, and Ross’s Theory. Stuart P. Green explores the domain of law through perjury, fraud, and rape as well as who is lying (the police, the lawyers, the media). In Chapter 38, Marta Serra-Garcia presents the field of economics, introducing different studies that have focused on seeing if people would lie when there was a material incentive to do so. In the next chapter, Anita E. Kelly explores lying in education, proposing a new didactic solution for lying, which encourages students to communicate sincerely in the classroom and learn for the sake of learning. The next chapter, by Dariusz Galasiński, presents discourse analysis, emphasizing the importance of gathering real-life data when studying deception. Some examples are discussed here from doctor-patient communication; these highlight the great potential such research would have for improving clinical care. Chapter 41, by Vian Baker, Eric Herring, David Miller and Piers Robinson, deals with deception in politics, focusing on what this means for democracy. This nicely ties with the next chapter by Thomas L. Carson on lying and history, giving examples of lies that were told by leaders (for instance, the lies used by the Bush administration before the 2003 Iraq War). The last two chapters of this part deal with lying in the arts (by Bettina Kümmerling-Meibauer) and cross-cultural situations of lying (by Fumiko Nishimura), especially for English and Japanese.

This book also includes a list of figures and tables, and an index.


The book starts by asking a very simple albeit complex question – What is lying? – showing that we need more empirical analyses to understand something as simple and human as deceiving another (or ourselves, for that matter). It also shows how diverse the reasons for deceiving really are, hiding behind intentions and ambiguity of expression. Most of all, it points at the complexity of human cognition, emotions, and reasons above all and how intricate the ways we interact with others really are. The discussions presented in this Handbook apply nowadays not only to social scenarios, but to every type of information coming our way: newspapers articles, advertising, political speeches, etc. The different examples taken from the media show that lying is not only a matter for the philosophers to solve, but for everyone.

This book surveys everything: from the state of the art to future areas for research and questions still left unanswered. Even to a beginner’s eye, each chapter presents so many fascinating paths that it is impossible to lose interest. The different areas presented (philosophy, linguistics, psychology, neuroscience, ethics, etc.) debate not only the bigger picture but also the complex questions that arise for each of these fields of research, especially highlighting the need for empirical analyses in most of these areas. It would seem to be absolutely essential to deal with this interdisciplinarily. Grice’s cooperative principle, presented and analyzed from different perspectives, is at the center of many of these chapters.

The one thing that feels repetitive at times is that the same examples are mentioned in numerous parts. Many examples appear in several chapters (Clinton’s I did not have sexual relations with that woman, for instance), but they are analyzed from different perspectives (such as vagueness by Egré & Icard, among others); we do get familiar with them and the fact that they are shown from different viewpoints brings new light to the ‘phenomenon’ of lying. Nevertheless, further references to these examples within chapters would have made everything clearer at times – there is little to no cross-reference to the other articles analyzing the same examples.

All in all, this book includes passionate analyses for students and professors of linguistics, philosophy, psychology, media studies, cultural studies, etc., and presents a critical approach of the literature on lying. The last part of the book presents lying in various fields (from social psychology to economics), with concrete examples that could be used in a classroom and that should be of interest to scholars and students. More importantly, seeing all these examples from different fields, we realize how ubiquitous lying and deceiving really are.


Brandom, Robert B. 1994. Making it explicit: Reasoning, representing, and discursive commitment. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Dummett, Michael. 1981. Frege: Philosophy of Language, 2nd edition, London: Duckworth.

Sperber, Dan, Fabrice Clément, Christophe Heintz , Olivier Mascaro, Hugo Mercier, Gloria Origgi, et al. 2010. Epistemic vigilance. Mind & Language 25(4): 359-393.
Sabina Tabacaru is Associate Professor of Linguistics at Université Paris 8 - Vincennes-Saint-Denis. Her research interests include sarcasm, discourse analysis, multimodality, and emotion from the perspective of Cognitive Linguistics.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9780198736578
Pages: 688
Prices: U.S. $ 150.00