My granddad was a stern, judgmental man who paced the house thundering what I supposed were Scriptures directed at me. He was especially keen on the ninth of the Ten Commandments and such rumblings as “Children, obey your parents” as though he’d been lurking in corners to catch me at my worst — maybe reading my mind. I didn’t much like my granddad, but his words did stay with me and made me wonder what he’d have to say from his present vantage point about today’s goings-on. Probably something like this:
Lies, lies, lies. Ah yes, my children, there was a time when “Read my lips, no new taxes” meant no new taxes and “is” meant is, but that changed years after I was gone.
In my time, the ninth “Thou shalt not” was included along with the other Ten Commandments that hung on a plaque in classrooms where your great-grandmother and I sat. But it wasn’t so long ago that we don’t remember the soapy mouth washings administered by our mothers, who actively believed “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor;” that one’s neighbor included all of humankind, and that it was up to her to see to it her progeny believed it too. But alas, it appears that soapy mouth washings have fallen by the wayside. Outrage and mock-outrage have been so hopelessly jumbled with today’s politicians’ half-truths and deceits spewed out on your living room floor that you’ve reached the point where a TV newscaster’s report on a drunk college kid who fell 17 stories and was found alive wedged between two buildings several days later is considered comic relief.
Alas (again), in spite of your foremothers’ vigilance, the lie — whose only antonym is “truth” — not only survived but spawned many useful synonyms to muffle its harshness. Take “mendacity,” for instance, an elegant word representing the discreet falsehood spoken on formal occasions when no one’s entirely sober.
The synonym “fib” explains away a darling little child’s innocent verbal indiscretion — as opposed to “whopper,” which is what you’ll call that grown up and no longer so darling child’s continuing indiscretions, largely because you didn’t wash his mouth out with soap back when he was telling fibs. And then there’s the synonym “prevarication” for those times when one doesn’t so much lie as beat around the bush in order not to be caught telling it.
Of course, we all do lie, though, to one degree or another, and one can no more be just a bit of a liar than one can be just a bit pregnant. We either are or we’re not, but thank God we don’t have to be politicians.
Now if you’ll bow your head, I’d like to close with a perversion of the sort of logic that has driven me nuts all week and inspired this grandfather rant, may he rest in peace: If you like your rational mind you can keep it (period), but only if you stopped watching the national news prior to 2008. Amen.
MARJORIE ANDERSON is an Edmond resident.