Of lies: are they bare-faced, or bold-faced?

Thomas Tompion

Senior Member
English - England
A member this morning wrote of a bold-faced lie, and I wondered if he meant a bare-faced lie.

I then wondered if I had been overtaken by the times and that people now talked of bold-faced lies, so I went to the ngram.

This suggested that bold-faced overtook bare-faced in use around 1986.

I then wondered if this result was due to an AE/BE split, so I tried dividing the ngrams between AE and BE, and got this ngram.

This suggested two things which puzzled me, and which I don't believe to be the case:

1. That there's no difference between AE and BE use.
2. That bold-faced was dominant until it was overtaken by bare-faced in 1890.

The ngrams must have their own internal logic; I thought I understood it, yet clearly I don't.

Rather than suffer a complete nervous collapse, I went off to have breakfast.

Are your lies bare-faced or bold-faced?
 
  • DonnyB

    Sixties Mod
    English UK Southern Standard English
    My BE lies are only ever bare-faced. :D

    I don't recollect ever coming across bold-faced lies, in fact (and would have instinctively marked it down as a mistake) but I see that Oxford Dictionaries list it as a recognized synonym.

    It'll be interesting to see what other peoples' experiences are.
     

    Szkot

    Senior Member
    UK English
    There is also 'bald-faced lie', which using Google phrase search is the most common of the three, and appears in numerous headlines about Trump. My lies will continue to be bare-faced.
     

    Loob

    Senior Member
    English UK
    There's an interesting World Wide Words piece here, TT: Bald-faced, boldfaced or barefaced.

    ... the original is actually neither of the two versions you quote [bald-faced lie, boldfaced lie], but is instead barefaced lie. [...]
    This is still the usual form in Britain and to a lesser extent in Canada. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Americans started to use bald-faced lie instead, which has become the most common form in today’s US newspapers.
    [...]​

    I'd never noticed the variations before!

     
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    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    There's an interesting World Wide Words piece here, TT: Bald-faced, boldfaced or barefaced.

    ... the original is actually neither of the two versions you quote [bald-faced lie, boldfaced lie], but is instead barefaced lie. [...]
    This is still the usual form in Britain and to a lesser extent in Canada. In the latter part of the nineteenth century, Americans started to use bald-faced lie instead, which has become the most common form in today’s US newspapers.
    [...]​

    I'd never noticed the variations before!
    Thank you, Loob.

    To try to get over the problem of hyphenation I've resorted to the ngrams again.

    This seems to show that:

    1. The preferred adjective historically is bare.
    2. The unhyphenated form, barefaced, is preferred.
    3. Barefaced and bare-faced were completely dominant back in 1800.
    4. Bold has recently overtaken bare as the preferred adjective.

    Barefaced has had the sense of unconcealed or outrageous for many years. It's applied not just to lies, but to frauds, behaviour, cheek, hypocrisy, perjury - look at the examples given with the ngrams; they run to many pages.

    Shakespeare uses bare-faced literally when Quince says to his fellow rustics in Midsummer Night's Dream Some of your French crowns have no hair at all, and
    then you will play bare-faced
    - ie. without masks.

    And Ophelia sings: They bore him barefac'd on the bier - ie. without covering the dead man's face.

    Macbeth uses it figuratively and unhyphenated in a speech full of a usurper's power:

    Macbeth, III,1

    So is he mine; and in such bloody distance,
    That every minute of his being thrusts
    Against my near'st of life: and though I could
    With barefaced power sweep him from my sight...
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I suppose that's one advantage of beards - you can't tell bald-faced lies. I see how 'barefaced' lie came about: there is no disguising that it was a lie.
    There's plenty of that around.
    'Barefaced' is the only version I know. I can easily see how bald and bold could be confused. Different accents can produce very similar sounds.
     

    Thomas Tompion

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I see how 'barefaced' lie came about: there is no disguising that it was a liep[...]
    Isn't the idea that the lie or whatever is shameless? It's not surely that it's hard to disguise but that the liar makes no attempt to disguise what he is doing.

    This might make the deception easier to spot, unless he (or she) is a good poker-player.
     
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    Edinburgher

    Senior Member
    German/English bilingual
    It's easy to see a connection between bare and bald through hairlessness.
    I guess bold is probably an originally accidental construction, sounding as it does similar to bald, but bringing in the idea that the liar must be rather bold to dare to tell an undisguised lie. Strictly-speaking, bold-faced is somewhat illogical, because it is not the face that is bold, but its owner.
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    I guess bold is probably an originally accidental construction,
    The link given in Loob's #5 shows that it is not and that "bald" means/meant "white" (bald eagle -> white head; bald mountain - snow-capped mountain.) The whole article from the excellent Mr Quinion is well worth reading and ends with the quote by an AE speaker:
    When we call a lie baldfaced or boldfaced ... either one is just fine, though baldfaced is a bit more common. But we could save ourselves trouble by following the rest of the Anglophone world, which avoids the issue simply by using barefaced for most kinds of openly shocking behavior.
    Jan Freeman, writing in the Boston Globe in June 2002.
     

    natkretep

    Moderato con anima (English Only)
    English (Singapore/UK), basic Chinese
    I was only familiar with bare-faced before reading this thread. I've delved into Mr Q's site and can also heartily recommend it.
     

    pob14

    Senior Member
    American English
    I'm familiar with both "barefaced" and "boldfaced," but I've only ever used "boldfaced." I guess I've always assumed it had to do with typefaces; a lie so obvious it's (metaphorically) printed in boldface.

    (And I wouldn't hyphenate either, but that's another thread.)
     

    PaulQ

    Banned
    UK
    English - England
    Any relation, Mr Q?
    Unfortunately not: he'd be a fascinating chap to have a beer with. I subscribe to Michael Quinion's site/newsletter, but he has very recently announced that he is taking what appears to be an enforced break - I hope he's OK. Nevertheless, the archives are marvellous for losing track of all time whilst browsing and for reference. :thumbsup:
     
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