Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! (1970)

James C. Stalker stalker at MSU.EDU
Tue Sep 9 02:10:36 UTC 2003

Given that the local Louisville version (c. 1950s) that the Stalker household
is familiar with had no telephone wires or noses in the saying, it is possible
that the saying is a curse, derived from older sources and adapted in some
contexts to modern technology in order to make some sense of it (perhaps for
younger, we hope, more innocent children), or lessen the demonology suggested
by the curse.  If you lie, you will live in flames, i. e., the flames of hell.

Jim Stalker

Laurence Horn wrote:

> At 2:54 PM -0400 9/8/03, Dennis R. Preston wrote:
> >>I prefer my wife's, at least for the traditional association of long
> >>noses and liars (which at least gives me a reading).
> >
> >dInIs
> another possibility via google (which favors the Preston household
> version, with the slight variants "your nose is longer than a
> telephone wire", as well as the footloose "nose is longer than a
> copper telephone wire", which scans worse than Ogden Nash) is the
> nicely graphic
> "...hang them up on a telephone wire"
> "...hanging from a telephone wire"
> But I agree that the nose-length one is more semantically motivated,
> besides which I'm not sure why one would drape a burning pair of
> trousers over the telephone wire, even if copper is a good insulator.
> Did the prevarication/nose length correlation antedate Pinocchio, I
> wonder?
> L
> >
> >
> >>Dennis R. Preston wrote:
> >>
> >>>  The full form (as I am told by mu wife, Milwaukee, childhood memory
> >>>  from early 50s) is
> >>>
> >>>  Liar, liar, pants on fire
> >>>  Nose as long as a telephone wire.
> >>>
> >>>  Us Louisvillians had no such pome.
> >>
> >>
> >>The version I remember (I was an Army brat, so I can't localize it, but
> >>the time would be the mid-'60s) had, as the second line, "Can't get over
> >>the telephone wire".
> >>
> >>Jim Parish
> >
> >--
> >Dennis R. Preston
> >University Distinguished Professor
> >Department of Linguistics & Germanic, Slavic,
> >      Asian & African Languages
> >Michigan State University
> >East Lansing, MI 48824-1027
> >e-mail: preston at
> >phone: (517) 432-3099

More information about the Ads-l mailing list