to belie

Whodunit

Senior Member
Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
Would you consider "to belie someone" obsolete or still a modern word? I'd classify it being poetic, however I'm not entirely sure.

Can it also have the meaning of "to lie at someone" (judging from German) or only of "to tell lies about someone"? Furthermore, I'd like to have some (common) examples in what situations you'd use this word.

Thank you. :)
 
  • cuchuflete

    Senior Member
    EEUU-inglés
    The usage you suggest if either archaic or nonexistent.

    In common usage, though it's an uncommon verb, it means to misrepresent or to show to be false, to contradict.

    Hence, I would not tend to belie someone; rather, I would belie their statement or position.
     

    river

    Senior Member
    U.S. English
    Belie
    1.To picture falsely; misrepresent: "He spoke roughly in order to belie his air of gentility" James Joyce.
    2. To show to be false: Their laughter belied their outward grief.
    3. To be counter to; contradict: At first glance, life at the boarding school seemed to belie all the bad things I had heard about it.
     

    Brioche

    Senior Member
    Australia English
    I've only ever seen this verb used in the third person.

    His actions belied his commitment to urgency = His actions showed that he was not committed to urgency.

    The metropolitan beaches have a laid back, uncrowded style that belies their proximity to a major city. = The beaches are so uncrowded that you find it hard to believe they are close to a major city.
     

    DaleC

    Senior Member
    Whodunit has kind of hit the jackpot with this question.

    river cited a dictionary entry:
    1.
    To picture falsely; misrepresent:
    2. To show to be false:
    3. To run counter to; contradict . . .

    Right here we see that the same syntax, X belies Y, can mean either 'X misrepresents Y' or 'X dispels the misrepresentation of Y' ('dismisrepresents' as it were).

    And there are still other causes of confusion.

    In America, there is total confusion as to the meaning of belie, to the extent that many speakers are aware of it. I must have seen this confusion discussed in the press easily half a dozen times in my life. People are unsure of both of what it means to them -- how one ought to use it -- and of what other speakers mean by it. When you encounter a use of belie, you have to pause and scrutinize the sentence to be sure which meaning belie is bearing.

    There are actually two confusions. First, do we treat belie as deriving from 'lie = tell an untruth' or 'lie = recline, in this case underneath something else'? Possibly the first choice is more common, but then we encounter the second confusion seen in the above cited dictionary entry.

    Besides, the verb seems to be used about equally often in active voice and passive voice, which increases the society wide confusion.

    His actions belied his commitment to urgency = His actions showed that he was not committed to urgency.
    Yeah, that one's easy, but all the time you encounter in your reading, sentences like

    A commitment to urgency belied his actions.
    His actions were belied by a commitment to urgency.
    Both of these mean the same thing -- usually! Given the parts 'his actions' and 'commitment to urgency', the only reasonable interpretation is that belie is a synonym of 'underlie' or 'produce'.

    So things have gotten to a point that to interpret 'X belies Y' or 'X is belied by Y', you have to stop and look at parts X and Y to determine which of the three above possible meanings applies.

    The thing is, X and Y are not always concrete ideas or motions like "laughter". They are frequently half baked in conception and they are syntactically complex. That applies to both of these examples.

    brioche said:
    His actions belied his commitment to urgency = His actions showed that he was not committed to urgency. If belie is supposed to mean 'dispel misrepresentation', then "commitment to urgency" is really "the claim of his being committed to urgency". In real life, people do formulate their ideas illogically or with ellipsis.

    The metropolitan beaches have a laid back, uncrowded style that belies (runs counter to) their proximity to a major city. = The beaches are so uncrowded that you find it hard to believe they are close to a major city.
    Here X is not 'he', 'his actions' or 'their laughter', but 'a . . . style', and Y supposedly is 'their proximity to a major city'. This is a great example of the uselessness of 'belie' these days, because the sentence really should say,

    The metropolitan beaches have a laid back, uncrowded style that belies
    the expectation/assumption that proximity to a major city would cause them to be crowded and irritating.

    Good luck!

    Regards,
    Dale




     

    Whodunit

    Senior Member
    Deutschland ~ Deutsch/Sächsisch
    You've all been a great help. Thank you very much. :)

    DaleC said:
    Right here we see that the same syntax, X belies Y, can mean either 'X misrepresents Y' or 'X dispels the misrepresentation of Y' ('dismisrepresents' as it were).

    And there are still other causes of confusion.

    I haven't even thought about the confusion "belie" can confuse, but examples definitely make them clearer. So in your eyes, "belie" has only one meaning and that is "misrepresent", and neither "to show to be false" nor "to contradict". AM I on the right track?

    In America, there is total confusion as to the meaning of belie,

    Maybe the word's meaning is a bit too achaic to be known everywhere. Many people may not even know about the word (I'm not speaking about English speaking persons only, of course), so most of them would use it in wrong situations. :)

    At any rate, thank you very much for your so detailed answer. I think I shouldn't use the word often in order not to sound poetic. ;)
     

    DaleC

    Senior Member
    Whodunit said:
    So in your eyes, "belie" has only one meaning and that is "misrepresent", and neither "to show to be false" nor "to contradict". AM I on the right track?

    Errr, ahhh, I, ummm, have to say, well, No. :) The word has all these three meanings plus "be at the root of". That is precisely the problem. Now, one could discuss what it "should" mean, but the community of native speakers doesn't adhere to "the one correct" meaning. (Verbs with the prefix be- are always transitive. Aside from this, be- does not have a consistent meaning. Historically, the meanings of verbs with be- are unstable. The interpretations that presume 'lie = recline' are so innovative that some dictionaries still haven't acknowledged them.)

    [. . . . ] Maybe the word's meaning is a bit too achaic to be known everywhere. Many people may not even know about the word (I'm not speaking about English speaking persons only, of course), so most of them would use it in wrong situations. :)

    At any rate, thank you very much for your so detailed answer. I think I shouldn't use the word often in order not to sound poetic.

    Maybe you meant the word itself is archaic. It's not; it's common enough. It's not "poetic" because ot's current in written use. The confusion I described has been entirely "home grown", can't be blamed on second language speakers.
     

    Moogey

    Senior Member
    USA English
    I've never heard of this word until now. But I've recently begun a new Vocabulary Enricher practice to build my vocab. Thanks! I'll start using this, and also get some strange looks :D

    -M
     

    nadanada76

    Senior Member
    Romania Romanian
    Well, here's an example of "belie someone":
    "Your enemies will continually belie you, and fix you with the blame for the malfeasance of others or for simple misfortune."
    It's from Hilary Mantel's "The Mirror and the Light". In this case, what does it mean?
    Thank you!
     

    velisarius

    Senior Member
    British English (Sussex)
    I belatedly :oops: looked for examples of that older usage - fill with lies, deceive, delude.
    Shakespeare (in Cymbeline, early 17th century) compared slander to a viper:

    "Slander...whose breath rides on the posting winds, and doth belie all corners of the world."
    ShakespearesWords.com

    I finally managed to get a look at a copy of Mantel's novel. On context alone, I think in that passage it means "Your enemies will slander you, try to discredit you". Cromwell is writing down advice to himself on how to deal with the king while still keeping his head his shoulders, but with an eye to leaving these notes (The Book Called Henry) to his son or another of his kin in the event of his death.
     
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