Boldfaced and barefaced lies

Thu Mar 6 00:54:40 UTC 2003

        I checked these on Westlaw.  "Barefaced lie" is just a special case of "barefaced."  From 1800:  "Is there any instance in which strict law will suffer its rules and provisions to be eluded by such bareface subterfuge?"  Mayo v. Bentley, 8 Va. (4 Call) 528 (1800).  For "barefaced lie" specifically, here's an 1844 use:

>>The first count . . . avers, that in this conversation the defendant uttered of the plaintiff these false and scandalous words:  "Hunter swore a point blank lie to clear William Sally of stealing honey."  The second count . . . charges the words spoken to be:  "Joe Hunter swore a barefaced lie on Sally's case."<<

Palmer v. Hunter, 8 Mo. 512 (1844).

        "Bald-faced" was a reasonably common term in the 19th century in reference to animals.  I suppose that it means having a white face (although when I lived on a farm, we just referred to these animals as "white-face").  The earliest use I've seen as a synonym for "barefaced" is from 1893:  "Courts of justice cannot be expected to sanction such bald-faced wrong."  Mann v. Poole, 40 S.C. 1, 18 S.E. 145, 149 (1893).

        For "bald-faced lie" specifically, the earliest use was in a 1961 trial (quoted in a 1965 court opinion):  "We've been talking about inconsistency and contradictions but Mr. Collins told us a bald faced lie right here in the courtroom."  Collins v. Shishido, 48 Haw. 411, 419, 405 P.2d 323, 329 (1965).  Since then, however, it seems to have become fairly common.  There were 61 uses of "bald-faced lie" (including variants of "bald-faced") since 1970, compared to only 8 uses of "barefaced lie."

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: Michael Quinion [mailto:TheEditor at WORLDWIDEWORDS.ORG]
Sent: Tuesday, March 04, 2003 9:51 AM
Subject: Boldfaced and barefaced lies

Of these two, I know that "barefaced lie" is the older form (I've so
far taken it back to a speech to the California Constitutional
Convention on 6 October 1849; that's an antedating of a whole year,
break out the champagne).

My impression from various sources is that "baldfaced lie" is now
much the more common US form (while we Brits tend to stick with
"barefaced lie"). Could some kind person give me any clues about the
date when "baldfaced lie" started to be used? My references are
totally silent on the matter.

As to that folk etymological "boldfaced lie", let's not go there!

Michael Quinion
Editor, World Wide Words
E-mail: <TheEditor at>
Web: <>

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