What's in a Word | All Blogs

A fib or a lie?

By Debra Dobbins

Fib is a short word with a long history. It comes from fible-fable, slang used in the 16th and 17th centuries to indicate nonsense, according to Webster’s.

Fib and lie both mean being untruthful, but they have different shades of meaning, or connotation.

A lie is an out-and-out untruth. A fib is a small or nearly harmless untruth. We (yes, we, I’ll fess up to fibs and I suspect you might wanna fess up, too) often tell small untruths to smooth over a social situation. (“Why, darling, your beautician used a wonderful shade of purple for your hair!”)

When I fib, I also pray that someone else does not perceive my untruth as a lie. That’s the tricky part. I generally fib if I think there is little chance of being found out. If caught in a fib, I may just have to tell another one and before long, I’ll end up with a pack of lies and a Pinochio nose.

I think Sam can be forgiven, however, for saying fib and not lie. He seems like a good-hearted soul who is just struggling to write an appropriate letter. Furthermore, by using the word fib he’s created assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds. Both fib and sin have the short i sound, so they come close to rhyming. His question is fun to read because of the assonance and because of the two-word, two-syllable rhythm: Is it/a sin/ to fib/in a/Christ/mas/let/ter?

As promised yesterday, here are answers for the tone in yesterday’s “Freshly Squeezed”:
Sam starts out his letter in an upbeat, politically correct way. In panel three, though, he changes his tone by using words with a negative connotation: idiotic and careless. The negative tone continues in the last panel with the use of the words forced and starving. His tone becomes one of exasperation or frustration. The contrast in tone is what tickles our funny bones.



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